Colin Firth Delivers Nonpareil Performance as Reluctant Monarch with Speech Impediment
When England’s King George V (Michael Gambon) passed away in 1936, he was first succeeded by his eldest son, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce). But Edward would abdicate less than a year into his reign, capitulating to the mounting public pressure to pick between the throne and his scandalous plans to marry his mistress, Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), a two-time divorcee’ and an American to boot.
This development left Prince Albert (Colin Firth) positioned as the next in line, but the heir apparent was reluctant to replace his brother because of his own inability to control a crippling stutter. After all, he was well aware of radio’s rising importance as a means of communication, and that periodically addressing the masses on the air would be among his critical duties as a high-profile figurehead.
Furthermore, having embarrassing himself in front of a large crowd in Wembley Stadium over a decade earlier, Albert had already consulted a world-renowned speech therapist for help with his condition. However, Dr. Bentham’s (Roger Hammond) best scientific efforts had failed, leaving the beleaguered Prince’s saddled with a lack of self-confidence and a disinclination to serve as monarch.
Finally, a ray of hope arrives when word of an Australian rumored to be curing speech impediments reaches Albert’s supportive wife, the Duchess of York (Helena Bonham Carter). Adopting an alias, she surreptitiously goes slumming around a seedy side of London in search of the highly-recommended Dr. Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
As animated as he is eccentric, the self-assured therapist confidently lays out his non-negotiable ground rules prior to agreeing to take on “Mrs. Johnson’s” mysterious husband as a client, including an understanding that all the sessions will be conducted right there on the premises in his modest home studio. And even after learning the identity of his new pupil, Logue insists on referring to Prince Albert by “Bertie,” His Majesty’s lofty stature outside the office notwithstanding.
Although initially infuriated as much by the cheeky commoner’s presumptuousness as by his unorthodox methods, Albert gradually develops a grudging fondness for the foreigner when his stammer starts showing signs of dissipating. The arc of their strained relationship serves as the fascinating focus of The King’s Speech, a fact-based, historical drama directed by Tom Hooper (The Damned United).
The film is reminiscent of The Queen (2006) in that it offers a plausible peek at the intimate affairs of members of the Royal Family during a defining moment of emotional and political upheaval. In this instance, the period in question covers the turbulent years after Albert’s coronation leading up to England’s entry into World War II in 1939.
The movie is at its best when highlighting the delightful badinage between Colin Firth as the recently-crowned King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as his not so humble servant, a charming rogue if there ever was one. Still, the sobering specter of Hitler looms over Europe, making Logue’s appointed mission to prepare Albert to deliver a rousing declaration of war without stuttering as much a patriotic duty as an individual achievement.
Kudos to Firth and Rush for generating screen chemistry aplenty in inspired performances not to be forgotten during awards season.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity.
Running time: 111 Minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company