If The King's Speech isn't the year's best film, it's floating up there in the top 10, somewhere in the top five. It may even be the best.
Traditional without being conservative, linear without being predictable, The King's Speech retells a historical chapter that remains largely unknown. In the process, it acutely observes the isolation of royalty in a way that no other film in recent memory has, with the possible exception of The Queen.
Written by David Seidler and directed by Tom Hooper (The Damned United, John Adams), The King's Speech works so well because of the nuance and beautifully calibrated performances of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in the central roles. They play a symbiotic pair whose relationship gives each something he hadn't expected, even as they develop a greater understanding of their own fears and weaknesses.
But this story - about how an unorthodox (and largely self-taught) Australian speech therapist helped the future King George VI of England (known to his family as Bertie) overcome a debilitating stammer - is about more than recreating history. It also examines the curious dynamic tension between the rulers and the ruled and what happens when that construct is dropped, if only for a little while and in private.
Royalty, it seems, doesn't suit Bertie (Firth). He's spent his life suffering the pressure of his father, King George V (Michael Gambon), to get his stammer under control: "Relax!" the old man shouts at him, while trying to give him a lesson in addressing the radio microphone. His brothers mocked him for his impediment - yet he was the one who had a strong naval career and who seems most conscious of his responsibility as a royal.
But with his father aging, Bertie is required to make more public appearances and speak to audiences, something that terrifies him because of the anticipation of humiliation. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), finally seeks out Logue, after numerous other therapists have failed.
Bertie is resistant - and Logue is something of an eccentric character. He insists on seeing Bertie everyday and further insists that, when they are in Logue's studio, they are equals and must call each other by their first names, a shocking breach of protocol. Yet his impertinence goads Bertie - and his methods begin to pay off.
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