Unfortunately for him, he’s the duke of York at a time when the proliferation of radio has compounded the already unpleasant duty of public speaking. Fortunately for him, his enterprising wife (Helena Bonham Carter) seeks help from a successful, if unconventional, speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush).
With his dignity—or perhaps only his battered pride—to protect, the duke at first resists treatment from this man, who happens quite proudly to be a commoner. But there is the matter of the duke’s duty, and the fact that nothing else works. To everyone’s surprise, the stammerer inherits the throne. His nation then goes to war, and his public speaking only gets harder and more necessary. True story.
We may presume this movie’s title refers both to the difficult evolution of one man’s diction and to a momentous radio address he delivered to his people in 1939, dramatized climactically here as the greatest challenge of his career.
The help and friendship he received was important, too, and The King’s Speech Therapist also would have been correct, if maybe too specific.
Call it a glossy inspirational inversion of Pygmalion or a sports flick for those who prefer royals to athletes, but there’s no denying the universal appeal of this tastefully wrapped package. Director Tom Hooper, also of The Damned United and the John Adams series, obviously is at ease with re-created history and with actors. Never mind that screenwriter David Seidler’s most recent credit before this film was the David Carradine TV movie Kung Fu Killer.
Here, Seidler’s solid script shows the consideration of humility and civility that we always say movies lack. Also, the ennobling performances by Firth and Rush are as great and full as they’ve ever been.
With Firth, it isn’t just the technical challenge of the impediment, it’s the progress he makes—and the delicate combination of royal entitlement and abashed anguish that cannot possibly be as easy to humanize as he makes it seem. For Rush, this is the perfect role, with warmth and compassion built in, as well as enough restraint to temper his innate theatricality.
Sure, the picture is a little proud of itself for its carefully controlled emotional manipulation and, at times, we can practically smell that pride on Bonham Carter’s breath. But of course she, like the rest of them, is simply doing her part for king and country—and the awards campaign. A well-bred crowd-pleaser and so obviously an Oscar magnet that it’s equally obvious to say so, The King’s Speech also happens to be a good movie. We’ll all feel better when the word gets out.
The King’s Speech
Directed by Tom Hooper
With Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Gambon and Guy Pearce