‘King’s Speech’ shows that a little can go a long way
A simple biopic of a future king. An elegant tale of two unlikely friends. A strange way to describe the winner of a Golden Globe and a contender for an astounding 12 Oscars, no doubt. But “The King’s Speech” is no less than an utter masterpiece, if only because of how simple (and yet complex) the story is. Weaving together a story of friendship, with layers of gut-wrenching, intimate emotions lacing through it all, “King’s Speech” delivers on nearly every level, and it does it without the pomp and circumstance most kings demand.
The plot begins with an embarassing debacule by the the younger son of King George V of England (Michael Gambon, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”), Duke of York Albert Frederick Arthur George (Colin Firth, “A Single Man”), who cannot control his lifelong stammer at a large public speaking event during the later years of the Great Depression, leading up to World War II. Right away it’s obvious how traumatic this debilitating handicap is. You can see it in his eyes; you can see it in the crowd’s eyes.
In an effort to stymie this less-than-regal attribute, Bertie, as his family calls him, undergoes an unorthodox treatment, involving marbles, which came much closer to killing the duke than alleviating him of his stammer. His supportive, if overprotective, wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”), who actually possesses some natural wit, decides to seek out another form of help (although Bertie explicitly told her he was done seeking treatment). There is where Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush, “Pirates of the Caribbean”) subtly and brilliantly comes into the mix.
As a speech therapist, he accepts Bertie as his client, although it comes with some caveats: They have to meet in his multi-hued office everyday and call each other by more informal names. Lionel simply flourishes in this dynamic, the ying to Bertie’s yang. He pushes Bertie in a way that is culturally unacceptable, taking liberties with a member of the royal family and generally being pushy. However, during the course of the film, Bertie and Lionel work together to overcome the challenges in an excruciatingly touching (if just a bit saccharin) manner. The film then follows history’s beckoning, ending in a grand announcement from Bertie, now King George VI, to the world that England is at war with Nazi Germany.
The absolute highlight of this film is the one-on-one between Firth and Rush. The banter, the emotion, the growth between the characters is breathtaking, undoubtedly worthy of a multitude of awards. It’s organic to the core, believeable in every sense. The dichotomy between the two men at first is striking. Bertie is quite tight-lipped with his past, and Lionel’s arrogance sometimes gets the best of him, but these traits only underscore the importance of the gradual emergence of a lifelong friendship.
But the same simplicity that makes this film so memorable is the same factor that can deter some viewers. In all reality, it’s wartime England, and the story about a stammering duke is hardly what most would consider important. And compared with his older brother, David, later King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce, “Memento”), who abdicates the throne in order to marry his already-divorced love (not to mention the Nazi associations later on), Bertie’s life is downright banal. “King’s Speech,” if lacking anything, may not possess enough pizazz for the regular movie-goer.
But when it comes right down to it, the most capitivating aspect of “King’s Speech” is how simple it is. There’s no overly dramatic view of the royal family, no dastardly secrets waiting to be exposed. It’s subtle and nuanced, gently nudging you rather than forcibly dragging you. In the end, it was a story about two people becoming friends in a most unlikely way. It’s about growing up and accepting life, changing what you can and dealing with what you can’t. In a word, it’s human.
Five stars out of five.