The King’s Speech: The Best Movie About British Royalty Ever Made
I tend to be more fascinated with than engaged in movies about British royalty. The problems of those born into wealth and power are unusually difficult for the average joe to relate to. From the first moment we see Colin Firth in the fantastic new film The King’s Speech, our sympathies are immediately with him. The script creates a complex lead character we still want to root for, the dialogue is funnier and fresher than most royalty films possess, and the main performances by Firth and Rush are beautifully executed and easy to like. Rarely would I describe a movie about a king as a “crowd pleaser,” but this absolutely fits the bill. Even if you hate these types of movies, this is one that is simply too good to pass up. Out of all of the British royalty films I’ve ever seen, this one without question wears the crown– it’s one of the best films of the year.
Prince Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth) has a problem. He has a pretty terrible stammering problem. For a normal human being, this might be irksome– for a member of the Royal Family at a time when radio is becoming an important element in maintaining their position as the figurehead of the country, it’s a massive political nightmare. His wife (Helena Bonham Carter) has stuck by his side as he tries various doctors and speech therapists, none of them working. She goes off the radar to find Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a failed Australian actor turned self-proclaimed speech therapist, who is unorthodox to say the least– and if there’s one genre of film I abhor more than the suffering royalty genre, it’s the wacky unorthodox doctor genre. Though Albert is at first very put off by Logue’s methods (Logue insists on calling him “Bertie” like his family does rather than “Your Highness”), they make progress and they begin to become friends. Then, disaster strikes: Edward (Guy Pearce) abdicates the throne, making Albert the new king, just as the Germans are forcing England to get involved in World War II. Albert, now King George VI, must get on the radio and make the most important speech he will ever make, rallying his country for conflict.
Admission: when I first heard that this movie was about a king with a disorder and his rogue doctor who doesn’t play by the rules, I couldn’t have been less interested. The truth of the matter is the script tells the story beautifully. They make me care about the characters, they create a sense of tension regarding the conflict and the stakes, and they do so with incredible humor and wit. I realize that there are some serious moments in this film… but I’m actually surprised this was nominated for Best Drama at the Golden Globes. If Shakespeare in Love was nominated for Best Comedy, and this is just as funny– maybe funnier, then I don’t understand the classification. Perhaps it’s because, looking at the Best Comedy nominees, they label you a drama if your films has three-dimensional characters that an audience cares about. This isn’t sitcommy, but it is a situational comedy: you have relatable characters who are in an interesting spot in their lives, and the comedy comes from their responses to various forms of adversity. The script by David Seidler was supposedly first written as a play, and I believe it– the excitement, intrigue, and comedy all come from people standing in rooms speaking wittily to one another. Tom Hooper does a great job keeping the angles and shots visually appealing, and the sound design helps create an impact on the audience regarding the disorder (the opening scene with its echoing microphone is a heartbreaker to watch), but there are so few scripts of this quality every year.
There really aren’t many performances of the caliber of the main two actors in this film either. Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce do fine work in their roles– it’s nice to remember that Carter is more than just a Tim Burton freakshow actress– and Michael Gambon is intimidating as Albert’s father, George V. Yet we really only care about any of their characters in correlation to how they affect our main two. Geoffrey Rush rarely gets to play anything other than kooky, but here, he’s a charmer– he’s stubborn but likable. He’s also sad deep down, giving you the sense that this challenge means more to him than he’s letting on. Watch the scene in which he auditions for a play, and the men he’s auditioning for mock him. There’s a clear drive to Lionel, and where he lacks in credentials he more than makes up for in knowledge. The showier role belongs to Firth, but never once did I feel like this was an “Oscar” performance while watching it. He absorbs you into the part, and with each impending catastrophe for his character, you get the sense of how it builds inside him. He obviously sees that his brother is toying with the idea of abdicating, yet he staunchly refuses to acknowledge his impending kingship. It’s partially due to fear, but primarily due to family loyalty. He sticks up for these people who have bullied him and psychologically made his stammer worse, because his position and the symbolic meaning of the royal family is the most important thing in his life– he will not be the one to bring dishonor to his position. He makes the plight of the rich royalty understandable and sympathetic; watch his eyes during the movie, as he gives his first few speeches, as he listens to a recording of his first class with Lionel. When teaching acting, I always say “the eyes don’t lie” to my students, and especially in film where one’s eyes are so large on the big screen. Firth’s eyes don’t contain a trace of effort, and we can’t take our eyes off of him. The King’s Speech is an old-fashioned crowd pleaser, and in a movie about speeches, it’s only right that this story is perfectly told.