The King's Speech

Being the King of England isn't all it's cracked up to be. No, seriously. Michael Gambon (Book of Eli) as George V sums it up nicely when he tells his younger son, the Duke of York (Colin Firth) that they've been reduced to actors. We're used to that these days, but back in the 1930's, people still remembered a time when being royal meant that you could levy taxes and declare wars -- if not all by yourself, at least without too much trouble from Parliaments and Prime Ministers.

It also isn't all it's cracked up to be when people expect you to give speeches all the time -- at factory openings, garden parties, racetracks, and over the brand-new, exciting invention called radio -- and you have a terrible stutter. It sounds like a dull premise for a movie, doesn't it? Watching a man trying not to stutter? Even if he is royalty. And yet it absolutely works.

The Duke of York -- aka Albert Frederick Arthur George, aka father of Queen Elizabeth II, aka Bertie -- has stuttered since he was four or five years old. It's quite a bad stutter, though really, I was surprised he didn't have even worse problems, considering how his father bullies him and his older brother (Guy Pearce of Memento) mocks him. But the stutter wasn't a catastrophe, since his brother, David -- aka Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David -- is charming, suave, and also the one destined for the throne. Still, Bertie has to pull his weight, and it's painful, seeing him try to make the words come out while crowds stare at him awkwardly, and his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, most recently of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), watches helplessly.

After trying every doctor and dubious treatment out there, Elizabeth persuades Bertie to see one last specialist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush -- have I mentioned what an excellent Sir Francis Walsingham he was in the Elizabeth movies? He just can't stay away from royalty). He has a reputation for being unorthodox and unconventional -- two things Elizabeth frankly admits to disliking -- but he also has a reputation for success. He insists on addressing the Duke of York as Bertie, orders him not to smoke, and makes a bet with him at their very first meeting. But he also manages to trick Bertie into speaking clearly, and Bertie is hooked despite himself. The long, tedious lessons begin.

Then David, just after becoming Edward VII, decides he'd rather marry a scandalously twice-divorced woman than be the king, because being the king isn't all it's cracked up to be. Suddenly, Bertie is no longer the backup, he's the first string quarterback. And just so things are as tense as possible, Europe is on the brink of war. England needs a leader who can hold them together in this crisis.

Unfortunately, the leader also needs someone who can hold him together in his own personal crisis. That would be Lionel, the very first commoner Bertie ever sat down and had a drink with.

The rest is just fun. Bertie says tongue twisters over and over, rolls on the floor, and swears. Like, a lot. Elizabeth snipes at the scandalous twice-divorced woman, Churchill gives advice, and the wonderful Derek Jacobi plays the Archbishop of I Only Have Your Best Interests at Heart. I mean, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth's costar in Pride and Prejudice, has a small but fun part as Lionel's wife, and a great scene when she comes home early to find the Queen sitting at her dining room table having tea.

Helen Bonham Carter is a great future Queen Mum, by the way, both terribly formal and quite likable at the same time. She was probably the most popular Windsor ever. I remember thinking, when watching her on TV meeting people, that they really didn't need to send guards with her. If anyone had even looked at her funny, I think the entire crowd would have pounced on said looker faster than you could say "Guy Fawkes", and that would've been it for that unfortunate person.

Oh, a rating. Four and a half out of five. Colin Firth is such a convincing stutterer I kept wondering if he had trouble turning it off at the end of the day, and he manages to look regal and rather like a wounded puppy all at once. But at the end of the film, you will believe a King can speak.

Image: 
Bertie eyes that evil microphone warily.

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