Accolades continue to pour in for Colin Firth’s performance as King George in The King’s Speech. (©2011 The Weinstein Company)
Historical films have a spine all their own. And when they’re as well executed as The King’s Speech, it’s like getting two good stories in one. At a time when Hollywood abounds in themes of tragedy, evil, and flawed protagonists, this profound story leaves us bursting with hope that good can triumph, and that Hollywood has not run out of happy endings.
Based on the true story of Britain’s King George VI, played by the inimitable Colin Firth, The King’s Speech is the bittersweet account of the second of five sons of King George V. Albert Frederick Arthur George Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, or Bertie for short, lived from 1895–1952, and reigned during WWII. Brilliantly directed by Tom Hooper, the film is concerned with the vulnerable side of this kind, proper, and troubled royal, and his painful rise to the throne.
Bertie inherits the throne when his older brother, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), abdicates to marry an American divorcée. But Bertie is a humble man who does not wish to be king. And worse, he’s cursed with a terrible stammer, for which even his family humiliates him. A series of failed speech therapists leave him without hope. But with the invention of the wireless radio, which can deliver the king’s voice into the homes of his subjects, the new king must prepare to address his nation.
Bertie’s challenged life is blessed with some strong allies. His caring wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) seeks the help of yet another therapist. Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) has a bold, unconventional approach. He insists on meeting in his humble residence, and that he and Bertie must be equals on a first-name basis—a notion bordering on treason. It is these wild therapy sessions, Logue’s full-speed-ahead spirit, the King’s terrible struggle, the devotion of the Queen, the complicated life of royals, and the movie’s sterling cast that hook us from the opening scene to the final credits.
A former stutterer, screenwriter David Seidler considered King George VI his boyhood hero. Seidler hit pay-dirt when Logue’s grandson produced Lionel’s previously unseen diary and letters from the king, which yielded some of the film’s best lines. At the request of the late Queen Elizabeth I (widow of King George VI and mother of the reigning Queen), who died in 2002 at age 102, Seidler did not produce this movie during her lifetime.
Even if you have never heard of the royal British dynasty, I dare you to not love this film, which won a Golden Globe for Firth, and will undoubtedly be a multiple Oscar contender. One could write a dissertation on this intricately layered production, brimming with memorable characters and events, an emotional story, the stunning twists of history, the power of persistence and love, and how the monarch of Britain finds his confidence through an ordinary man, a man who understands human nature. Because being human is what The King’s Speech is about. Okay, a blue-blooded human. But our issues are basically the same whether we wear a hood, a Yankees cap, or a crown. This unforgettable story is about trust and friendship, facing obstacles, and literally and figuratively, finding one’s voice. And suggests that a little assurance goes a very long way, and can come from where we least expect it. A+
Listen to King George’s actual speech from Sept. 3 1939.
Watch historical footage of King George VI and the royal family.
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