Movie Review: The King’s Speech
What’s so interesting about watching a stammering British royal in the 1930s learning to speak well? As it turns out, plenty.
In “The King’s Speech,” Colin Firth is Albert, a stuttering prince (Duke of York) on an accidental ascend to the throne. All available options exhausted, his wife (Helena Bonham Carter), finds Australian-born Lionel Louge (Geoffrey Rush), an unorthodox speech therapist who operates out of a humble family quarter, to “cure” her husband. Carter shows her softer side with a delicate piquancy in her role as Duchess of York and future queen mother.
Lionel, who later is found to have questionable qualifications, becomes Albert’s private teacher and confidante. His unconventional method demands that they are on equal level, Albert simply referred to as ‘Bertie’ (his nickname) and Lionel ‘Louge’ (without a “doctor” salutation). It’s interesting to note that the stutterer does not stammer when he talks to himself, curses out, sings along, or reads aloud with a noisy background.
With the death of King George V (Michael Gambon), oldest son David (Guy Pearce), is crowned as King Edward VIII. Edward’s relationship with a twice-divorced American commoner Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), and with whom he intends to marry, raises serious eyebrows of the parliament and church institution since he is the head of the church. Edward chooses love and abdicates his throne. Bound by duty and honor to serve the country, younger brother Albert is crowned as King George VI (father of future Queen Elizabeth II).
Since childhood, feeling the reject of his nanny, receiving negative reinforcements from his father, and living in the shadow of a self-assured brother and heir to the throne, self-doubter and naval officer Albert has been stuttering virtually all his life. He has all the right words in his brain but is just unable to orally communicate them. Firth’s delivery, conveying his frustration, anger and fear over his handicap, and the extreme embarrassment it causes, is truly heartfelt.
While a prince may be able to get by without much public speaking, for a king, it’s not an option. Impeccable speech gives voice to the face of a nation. This is especially amplified where leaders are expected to do public addresses that reach far and wide, courtesy of new technological apparatus, such as the microphone or radio. A speech impediment would far lessen the ability to lead, particularly in times of unrest. With the distressing rise of Hitler and impending world war, people look up to their leader to speak with a credible and assuring voice, and hang on every word.
With a running time of two hours, the story surprisingly maintains its momentum, although the standout scenes are clear. When Lionel’s wife (Jennifer Ehle) finds out who his husband’s student really is, it’s hilariously memorable. When Lionel tricks Albert to record and listen to his own voice, it’s a real ‘aha’ moment. Firth encapsulates Albert’s deepest pathos in a single scene where he breaks down in front of his wife over his upcoming coronation and the reality of being king is sinking in. The first appearance before the parliament where Albert feels small and every man before him appears to loom large, is another shining moment. The accession ceremony rehearsal at Westminster Abbey is a must-see. Last but not least, the premiere of the pause-filled wartime speech is a must-hear.
Firth gives an imperially admirable performance throughout and Rush is not much less regal. Lionel believes with sincerity and certainty that Prince Albert, King George VI is on the brink of becoming a “bloody good” king. The upclose, personal interactions between Firth and Rush are majestic. The quick-liners between them, stammer and all, flow mirthfully. Their unlikely rapport turns into a lifelong trust and friendship.
Once in a while comes a film that inspires and moves you, but rarely one that tells a story about a dry subject, which on the surface, as unrelatable as it gets, since it involves a privileged royal family. Respectably applause-worthy, “The King’s Speech” illustrates the power of storytelling. Hail to the king!
Copyright (c) 2011. Nathalia Aryani.
Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, lifestyle/travel writer and film columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nathalia owns a movies blog, The MovieMaven (http://themoviemaven.posterous.com).