Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The King's Speech

Directed by Tom Hooper.
2010. Rated R, 118 minutes.
Colin Firth
Geoffrey Rush
Helena Bonham Carter
Michael Gambon
Guy Pearce
Claire Bloom
Derek Jacobi
Eve Best
Timothy Spall

The Duke of York has a problem. Bertie (Firth), as he’s called by his family, has stammered all his life. On those occasions when he has to speak publicly he struggles mightily with disasterous results. Over the years, he’s tried numerous speech therapists to no avail. He’s given up hope. His only consolation is that as the younger son of King George V, it’s unlikely he’ll ever rise to the throne. He won’t be called upon to address the nation.

At the urging of his wife (Carter), Bertie tries one more therapist. Lonnie (Rush) was recommended to her by a friend and is known for his unconventional methods. After all the failures in this area of his life, Bertie is understandably reluctant and skeptical of the possibility he could be cured. Lonnie agrees to take the job, but only on his terms. The two men start an uneasy work relationship that over changing times and circumstances develops into a real friendship. Through some unforseen circumstances, Bertie does indeed become king, King George VI whom this movie is based on.

The King’s Speech takes two genres and mashes them together to create a triumphant inspirational film. The plot outline follows the template of a sports movie with our Duke in the underdog role and the therapist, his charismatic coach. This simply replaces the athletics with speech. What plays out amidst the machinations of the plot is pure bromance. The interesting dynamic is how Bertie keeps trying to distance himself from their relationship, yet keeps getting drawn back. It seems Lonnie is the only person he can confide in.

A movie where the title implies the climax will be made up of dialogue and not action has to be well written. This one is. It not only humanizes a member of British royalty, it makes him a sympathetic figure even though he’d much rather have us leave him alone than pity him. Remarkably, nothing feels as if its done for effect, at least for our purposes. For Lonnie’s purpose, most things are ploys designed to help or learn how to better assist his troubled pupil. This is why we root for Lonnie as much, if not more than Bertie. Bertie’s successes and failures are equally Lonnie’s. They will validate or invalidate him.

In these roles, both Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are superb. Firth’s performance runs the gamut of emotions. Yet, even at his most regal we sense his fragility. The show he puts on in public is easily seen through by those who know him. Firth lets us know him. He does this whil keeping his stammer from being ridiculous and causing inappropriate laughter. As Lonnie, Rush is a sturdy beam for Bertie to lean on. He’s full of genuine compassion, but also curiosity. He often approaches his student as a riddle to be solved. In a strange, but totally effective way, Lonnie carries himself more like a monarch than Bertie. We sense this quality has something to do with why Bertie is drawn to him.

When we get to the end, we’ve become vested in these men, their friendship and their quest. We’ve watched them struggle with one another over a period lasting many years and gone plenty of growing pains. Eventually Bertie, by now King George VI, finds out that as World War II threatens his nation, he has to make a speech to galvanize it. This is the big game. We want them to win.

MY SCORE: 8.5/10

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