By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
A picnic for Anglophiles, not to mention a prospective Oscar bonanza for the brothers Weinstein, The King's Speech is a well-wrought, enjoyably amusing inspirational drama that successfully humanizes, even as it pokes fun at, the House of Windsor.
The story—shy young prince helped by irascible wizard to break an evil spell and lead his nation to glorious victory—is a good one. Directed by telefilm tyro Tom Hooper from veteran screenwriter David Seidler's more-or-less-factual script, a cast of Anglo-Aussie stalwarts hits its marks with professional aplomb as Bertie Windsor (Colin Firth), the future George VI and father of England's present queen, overcomes a crippling stammer and his natural priggishness thanks to the eccentric ministrations of unconventional, adorably déclassé, transplanted Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
The tension between repressed Bertie, an unwilling sovereign, and irrepressible Lionel, a failed Shakespearean actor—or, better, between Firth's controlled fury and Rush's relaxed hamming—is played out in the moviemaking: Nostalgic for the old Miramax formula, The King's Speech treats clipped British understatement with the percussive, mildly distortive wide-angle close-ups that characterized the hearty Australian comedies of the Strictly Ballroom era. The movie is not entirely irresistible, but it would be difficult not to empathize with Bertie's painful plight, particularly in comparison with the glib bonhomie of his fellow royals: Michael Gambon as overbearing father, King George V; Helena Bonham Carter as solicitous helpmeet, the future Queen Mum; Guy Pearce as feckless elder brother Edward VIII, who abdicates the throne to marry American shady lady Wallis Simpson (Eve Best, a near ringer for the society vixen).
The movie's key historical fact is the mass-mediated merger of monarchy and showbiz—along with the emergence of the wireless as nationalism's new tribal drum. There's a sly moment when Bertie is wistfully transfixed by a motion-picture newsreel of the epoch's most potent orator, Germany's new chancellor, Herr Hitler. Now there's a fellow who doesn't hold back!
Big historical events take a backseat as The King's Speech puts its protagonist on the couch. A natural psychoanalyst, Lionel compels the prince to visit him daily in his ramshackle lower-middle-class lodgings and insists on first names. It's Pygmalion in reverse, with Lionel playing a democratizing Henry Higgins to Bertie's aristocratic Eliza Doolittle. Lionel trains Bertie to sing and dance and curse his way into a radio address, and the monarchy is preserved by a clever commoner.
The grand finale has the whole nation listening as invisible Lionel "conducts" the king's declaration of war in '39—hard-won eloquence discreetly goosed by Hooper's use of gradually swelling background music. That's the official Rocky moment, although the movie really finds its voice in those therapy sessions, when it bids to be a feature-length episode of In Treatment.
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