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"THE KING'S SPEECH"
(2010) (Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush) (PG-13/R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An unorthodox speech therapist forges an unusual alliance with the King of England as he tries to help him overcome a stammer that's severely impacted his appearances in public or over the radio.
PLOT:
Years after botching a public address and live radio broadcast in 1925, Prince Albert (COLIN FIRTH) still suffers from a bad stammer that leaves him quite uncomfortable making public appearances. His father, King George V (MICHAEL GAMBON), has no such problems, but laments that the relatively new broadcast medium means he and other such figures must now become actors. But at least he doesn't have to worry about Albert succeeding him since he has an older son, Edward (GUY PEARCE), who's well-groomed for the role, even if he wants nothing to do with that.

Albert's wife, Elizabeth (HELENA BONHAM CARTER), however, hasn't given up on him and thus continuously tries to find someone who can help. She thinks she might have found that person in Lionel Logue (GEOFFREY RUSH), an Australian speech therapist known for his unorthodox treatment procedures. Working from his home office where he lives with his wife, Myrtle (JENNIFER EHLE), and their kids, Lionel eventually convinces Albert to do as he says, and that helps alleviate some of the problem.

Yet, there are other issues Albert must contend with, including the death of his father and then Edward abdicating the throne in order to be with the love of his life, married American commoner Wallis Simpson (EVE BEST). Having succeeded his brother and now known as King George VI, the monarch must also contend with the rumblings of war and his dealing with Winston Churchill (TIMOTHY SPALL) in such matters. With war with Germany imminent, the King must prepare the biggest speech of his lifetime, something with which only Lionel can assist him.

OUR TAKE: 8.5 out of 10
I've never been a huge fan of monarchies and royal families as they come across as archaic and often self-centered people or families who thrive when the common folk sometimes suffer at their expense. That said, I do feel sorry -- to a degree -- for those born into such governing bodies. And that's because they don't have any choice in the matter.

They must also live a life that's not only about the present and future, but also a great deal influenced by the past. Namely, that's the lineage and having to live up to and sometimes perform better than those who've preceded them. Thus, what might seem like a pampered and unnecessary lifestyle to some could be a horror to those born into it (as compared to those who marry themselves into the situation and should be bright enough to know what they're getting themselves into).

That's especially true in today's 24-hour news cycle world where anything any such royal member does, says or even electronically types can be seen, heard and/or read around the world in an instant. Of course, every communication breakthrough over the years and decades has probably seemed like both a curse and godsend to those in such positions who can use such technology to reach the masses but also have it come around to bite them should they mess up in any way.

That was particularly true for King George VI, son of King George V and father to Elizabeth (who eventually succeeded him) and Margaret. He came about at the advent of an earlier broadcast medium, that of live radio broadcasts. While it's difficult nowadays to keep a contemporary political figure away from a microphone or camera, it was a brave new world back in 1925 when Prince Albert went to speak before a crowd assembled for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.

Such is the opening scene of "The King's Speech," a fantastic, crowd-pleaser of a movie that's my pick for best film of 2010. In it, Colin Firth gives a superb performance as the Prince and future King who's nervous about that speech. And that's not because of it being a relatively new and thus foreign communications medium or him suffering from a case of stage fright. Instead, it's because he had a severe stammer that greatly affected his ability to speak, especially in anything resembling a flowing manner. Talk about being born at and developing such an impediment at the wrong time.

As directed by Tom Hooper from an original screenplay by David Seidler (whose own story of bringing his script to the screen is its own fascinating tale), the highly entertaining and engaging film follows that botched speech through efforts by Albert's wife (nicely played by Helena Bonham Carter) to help him overcome his speech difficulties.

That eventually results in them meeting Lionel Logue, a failed Australian Shakespearean actor (a terrific Geoffrey Rush) best known for his unorthodox means of treating people with speech impediments. Albert really wants nothing to do with the therapist, not only because all others have failed, but also due to Lionel breaking royal protocol by saying they have to be equals for this to work (not to mention insisting on calling his Highness by his family pet name, Bertie).

What follows is funny, touching, heartwarming, dramatic and much more as the two men clash, work together, clash some more and so forth as Albert contends with upheavals in the royal family (namely that of his brother, played by Guy Pearce, being in love with a married American commoner) and the onset of WWII, all of which necessitate some public speaking or radio broadcasts.

If there were an award for best duo of the year, Firth and Rush would clearly win it as their chemistry and timing together is impeccable and you can't get enough of watching them work together and play off each other. That said, Firth is the current odds on favorite to win Best Actor, while Rush was a lock for Best Supporting until Christian Bale came along with his even better performance in "The Fighter."

A few reviewers have complained that the film is predictable and light Oscar bait, but I had no such problems with it, mostly because it operates on various levels. Beyond that working friendship element, there's yet another look at the royal family, the winds of war, the thematic elements of how broadcasts affect such figures (in one scene, the brothers' father, the King -- played by Michael Gambon -- laments that with radio they all must now become actors), and the causes of and treatment for certain types of speech impediments.

Considering the latter, the film is a great example and healthy slice of encouragement for kids (or adults for that matter) suffering from something similar (meaning not physically based). It shows that it takes a lot of effort to overcome something like that and might not work perfectly, but that it's worth every ounce of energy spent toward conquering such a socially debilitating condition.

But don't let that make you think the movie's portrayal of that is a downer, nor does it every touch upon being slight, glib or condescending about such matters. Instead, it's honest and believable, not to mention historically accurate (at least in general, I don't know if anyone knows the specifics), all of which makes it fascinating to watch, just like all other aspects of this great pic.

With award nominations certain for the leads (and perhaps Carter for her role), screenwriter, director, film and various bits of technical work (costumes, art direction, score, etc.) the film is excellent all around and pretty much any way one looks at it. While it's always nice to have Oscar caliber films one can admire and appreciate, it's even better when you can throw in that they entertain and even move viewers. That's the case here and that's why "The King's Speech" rates as a 8.5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 3, 2010 / Posted December 17, 2010


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