British director Tom Hooper’s touching drama The King’s Speech more than deserved each of the four Oscars it was awarded at the 2011 Academy Awards. Grossing over $370 million at the box office, David Siedler’s screenplay brings to life a long-forgotten history – that of Britain’s King George VI (Colin Firth), a man who never expected to be king, and was thrown into it by a pair of unusual events – the death of his father, George V (Michael Gambon), and the abdication of the heir apparent, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce).
Known simply as Bertie to his loved ones, our protagonist finds himself at the helm of a country on the verge of war, with a people that desperately need a leader. Entirely unprepared, and handicapped by his debilitating stutter, Bertie is unfit to be monarch, and he knows it. Money is no object when the King is in need, and thus various specialists are employed, each treatment resulting in various degrees of failure. As a final attempt, his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) the future Queen Mother, arranges for her husband to see an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
Logue and Bertie form an unlikely pair as they struggle past the issues of self-restraint, childhood experiences and current pressures to mould the king into a leader fit to steer Britain to victory. With support from Logue, his family, government and Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall), Bertie is transformed from no better than an amateur impersonator to a man capable of inspiring a nation. His radio address unites the people in battle, and completes George VI’s quest to find his voice.
Firth’s acting was striking – all at once he was shy, intimidated by the world, and yet disdainful of it as a royal has every right to be. He conveyed a blend of insecurity, embarrassed anger and blushing hope that led this movie to success; it was that ability to capture the human element of the story that made it more than just a history lesson.
Helena Carter renders a touching performance as the loving wife who seeks to empower her husband, making him confident and self-assured. One of my favorite quotes from the movie, “When I married you, I told myself, he stutters beautifully.” Clearly, the best wife-performance of the year.
We’ve seen Geoffrey Rush play a lot of roles – but his casting as an unusual and brilliant speech therapist was unexpected. In a way, it may have been just this factor that led to the stellar performance he delivered. Either way, this role is testament to his range and ability as an actor. He gave Christian Bale a run for his money when it came down to who would get the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.
The film’s cinematography was mostly shot in one room, but throughout the movie, the camera pans beautifully, capturing slight expressions on each character’s face, and by focusing so much on the individual personality of the characters, the film becomes at once impossible and realistic.
Witty, intelligent and intense – a must watch.