The King’s Speech is a British period piece about the monarchy AND a triumph over disability story, so it’s a sure thing for the Oscars. This is one you’ll actually want to watch anyway and it doesn’t even play like Oscar bait.
Bertie (Colin Firth), son of King George V (Michael Gambon) and Queen Mary (Claire Bloom), suffers from a stammer. His wife Elizbeth (Helena Bonham Carter) finds him a speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Bertie struggles with Logue’s lessons until he eventually has to take his place as King George VI.
This is the Rocky of speech therapy, complete with training montages. Logue’s methods of relieving vocal tension are clever, some almost 36th Chamber of Shaolin level. Logue makes a good tough love coach in Bertie’s corner too.
The film’s greatest asset is humor. Bertie and Logue are funny and engaging. Their humor is self-deprecating, even when Bertie gets frustrated. This is not the stuffy serious period piece I usually dread reviewing.
Firth’s performance is a careful balance of a realistic portrayal of a stammer, but perfect for dialogue. Don’t keep the audience waiting. Just give it a dramatic pause. It creates suspense. Will he say it? Will it flow? You really see the effort speech patients make. It’s a demoralizing condition and they make a noble struggle, whether it’s Bertie or the little kid in Logue’s waiting room.
Tom Hooper complements the drama with his visual style. He goes in for Raimi angles on Rush and Firth’s faces at pivotal speech moments. Then he leaves an unnatural amount of empty frame space in other scenes. He makes speech visual, so it’s not just talking.
This is the perfect kind of period piece where it’s just old enough to feel exotic but recent enough that it’s not hard to understand. The language is clear, pretty direct and close to modern, just with British accents. The costumes are classy but still look like suits and hats we recognize today as high royal fashion. We recognize the ‘30s era cars from gangster movies so we feel at home in this world.
The family drama of the monarchy was less interesting to me than the speech therapy, but it impacts the speech issue directly so it has to play. That’s just my natural frustration with king and queen movies. When Bertie becomes George VI, the king rules during World War II. That’s something we really “get” in America so we know how important those speeches will be.
The King’s Speech is one of those rare movies that is both important and compelling. Usually when a movie starts out with an important subject, it’s doomed to be pretentious and impenetrable to actual audiences. King’s Speech is relatable and moving. It just happens to also be a true story about a British person of the crown.