Your Majesty, you speak for the nation in this time of war and you d-d-don’t want to b-b-blow it! This triumph of mind over tongue will make you root for King George VI and his peculiar speech therapist, Lionel Logue; the new Dr. Doolittle and Eliza of film.
One Word Movie Review: GREAT
Some movies are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness reluctantly thrust upon them. The King’s Speech belongs in the last category, telling the tale of a reluctant royal hiding behind his childhood stammer only to take center stage later in life at the precise moment of his country’s finest hour. Growing up in the age of wireless (radio), Kings no longer can pass muster by looking regal and waving to crowds. No, they have to talk to their nation through the broadcast microphone and it is this fearsome object which opens the movie and dominates the life of “Bertie”, the second son of George V and ultimately the King of Britain during the Second World War.
The King’s Speech starts in 1925 and ends in 1939, following the Duke of York’s painful attempts to communicate with his subjects. We learn of his troubled childhood and the roots of his stutter and journey with him towards his ultimate test, his speech to the worried nation when war is declared against Hitler’s Germany. In the end, it is “only” a speech but it tests this man to the very core of his being and together, we honestly root for him to overcome his impediment and deliver the justification for war to a weary nation still haunted from the horrors of the First World War only twenty years earlier.
This is a classic character study about a man determined to live on the fringe of power, deferring to others and content within his limitations yet asked to step into the spotlight after death and love clear the path before him. His speech impediment makes him less royal and more commoner, much like his therapist’s insistence on first names. We have a Pygmalion story, between Bertie and Lionel (played by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush) where Lionel uses his experience treating WWI shell-shocked soldiers struck dumb by their trauma to teach Bertie how to overcome his own personal war wounds inflicted during his childhood in the trenches of Royal Family life.
Firth and Rush are superb in their roles, a two-handed Eliza and Professor Higgins relationship (together, apart, together), divided by class and upbringing – Lionel is an Aussie – egad man, a colonial in the King’s chambers!