The King’s Speech
Old-school filmmaking at its best, Tom Hooper’s immensely moving “The King’s Speech” tells the little-known (in this country, at least) story of how Queen Elizabeth’s father overcame a crippling stammer to rally his country against the Nazis during World War II.
You probably won’t find a better performance on film this year than Colin Firth as the man who reluctantly became King George VI — or Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, a cheeky, self-taught speech therapist from Australia who helped perform this miracle.
The man originally known as Prince Albert is second-in-line to the throne in 1925 when he humiliatingly struggles to get the words out during a radio broadcast from the British Empire Exhibition.
It’s a source of deep concern to his father, King George V (Michael Gambon). The elderly monarch, who has taken easily to the microphone, realizes that Albert would make a far better successor than his older brother, the flighty Edward (Guy Pearce) — but the new media requires a king do more than “look good in a uniform.”
Albert’s wife Elizabeth — the future Queen Mother — knows this, too, and brings her very reluctant husband to see Lionel in his shabby offices after the therapist refuses to do palace calls.
The prince does not appreciate Lionel’s insistence on calling his client “Bertie” instead of “your majesty” and storms off when the therapist demonstrates his unorthodox techniques. But some time later, Albert realizes they may work — and by that time, Edward V is poised to take the throne from their dying father.
Besides being a party boy, Edward quickly precipitates a parliamentary crisis by refusing to abandon plans to marry an American divorcée named Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), who’s cozy with the Nazi leadership.
Albert breaks with Lionel after the therapist treasonously suggests that Albert would make a far better monarch. But when Edward finally does abdicate (he becomes the exiled Duke of Windsor), the new King George VI (Albert’s name was abandoned as a reminder of the family’s Germanic roots) sends for Lionel, stat.
This does not go over well with the king’s advisers, notably the snobbish archbishop of Canterbury (Derek Jacobi), who does everything he can to exclude Lionel from the coronation.
Brilliantly directed by Hooper (TV’s “John Adams”) and written by David Seidler (“Tucker: A Man and His Dreams”), this compelling drama builds toward a stunning climax: George VI’s famous radio address announcing the beginning of World War II when Germany invades Poland in September, 1939.
Firth and Rush play this double tour-de-force as a two-hander, with Lionel literally conducting the terrified monarch through the six-minute address as we hear Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (used in a radically different context in “The Social Network”) on the soundtrack.
Acting simply doesn’t get much better than in this film. Firth (nominated for the first time last year for “A Single Man”) is the odds-on-favorite for the Best Actor Oscar as Albert, who is prodded by Lionel into revealing the horrible childhood that fomented his speech impediment.
Rush, who won the Best Actor Oscar for “Shine” (1997) is funny and inspiring as Lionel, a failed actor who has the temerity to tell the king: “My game, my turf, my rules” — and helps him force the words out by singing and swearing. Helena Bonham-Carter’s supportive Elizabeth is the best thing she’s done in years, and there’s sterling support as well by Jennifer Ehle (as Lionel’s wife) and Timothy Spall, born to play Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
“The King’s Speech” is the rare work of art that’s also an immense crowdpleaser.
Now Playing In Select Cinemas. EVERYWHERE Dec. 22, 2010.
View the official movie trailer here.
Originally Printed in the New York Post on Nov. 23, 2010