It’s an impressive feat for a film to win Academy Awards for best picture, best director and best actor. That’s nearly a clean sweep. ‘The King’s Speech’ did just that this year (2011), surprising some, and reaffirming what many others believed.
Prince Albert ‘Bertie’ (Colin Firth) the Duke of York is the second son of King George V (Michael Gambon). Bertie is often relegated to the background because of his stuttering problem. The old king knows that he needs a successor, but his eldest son, David (Guy Pearce) is carrying on with a previously divorced and still married American named Wallis Simpson (Eve Best). This is unacceptable in the eyes of the monarchy and will bring shame upon the royal family. Edward has no interest in conforming to tradition and wants to follow his heart.
This all adds pressure to Bertie to try to get help with his speech impediment. Now, more than ever, royalty is expected to address the people through broadcasting mediums like the radio. Hitler is causing havoc throughout Europe and the people of England need reassurance from their sort-of leader. The sudden death of King George V adds a sense of urgency to the matter.
He has seen many therapists and doctors over the years but none of them can help him. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) urges him to try a lesser known speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Albert is hesitant but eventually agrees to give the man a chance. Lionel’s methods and tactics are extremely unconventional and the prince is initially unconvinced.
Will these different approaches yield the intended results? Will the two men who couldn’t be any more different develop a friendship? Will a nation become united under these trying circumstances?
The target audience for ‘The King’s Speech’ has been portrayed (often comically) as older viewers. There is some degree of truth to that. It’s hard to imagine most teens flocking to the theater to giggle about afterward or to unwind after a week of schoolwork. Heck, many college students would rather re-interpret scenes from ‘Animal House’ at their own toga parties. An enthusiasm for English culture/customs and some degree of historical curiosity is extremely helpful.
Absolutely no aspect of the production looks like it was shortchanged in any way. The sets vary in scope from tiny, intimate rooms to a large cathedral. Little glimpses at what radio broadcasting used to be like and how it impacted figureheads unused to dealing with such technology are extremely rewarding to those who appreciate that sort of thing.
Everything is undoubtably well-acted and directed. There is no room for debate when it comes to that. Colin Firth has been on a bit of a roll lately and there was absolutely no reason to doubt that he would nail it. The same goes for Geoffrey Rush who is a pro at this sort of thing and Helena Bonham Carter was probably thinking back to her Merchant-Ivory days when working on a project of this quality.
The only real complain that can be brought up, and it’s a minor one, is that there aren’t any real surprises in the narrative. We all know how it’s going to end (roughly), that there will be some initial trepidation on Bertie’s part and that he will, sooner or later, come around. That comes with the territory of this historical dramas, unless they decide to take some liberties, but that usually opens up a can of worms that is best left closed. Hype from award shows can also distort peoples’ expectations and cause them to create their own, unattainable criteria.
Special features include: commentary, a look behind the scenes, a Q&A with the director and cast, audio of the real King George VI, a look at the real life Lionel Logue, and a public service announcement from The Stuttering Foundation.
Enjoyment of ‘The King’s Speech’ comes down to personal taste. Even if it’s not your usual subject matter, there is no denying that this is an extremely well-made product. Rather than being an especially ambitious cinematic undertaking, this is just an old-fashioned quality film that lacks any real flaws, which is certainly a rarity these days.
Those who are interested in the subject matter or those who are open-minded enough to give it a chance will almost assuredly come away from this happy. The two hours will just fly by.
As an additional note: the Weinstein Company saw fit to re-edit and re-release this fim in theaters with a PG-13 rating in a shameless attempt to rope in a wider audience. All that achieved was to bore a few more teenagers. Let’s hope that trimmed (or, artistically compromised, if you prefer) version never sees the light of day on home video.
Rated R 119 minutes 2011