The King’s Speech

Released:  2010

Cast:  Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon

Oscar Wins:  Best Picture, Best Actor (Colin Firth), Best Director (Tom Hooper), Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Supporting Actor (Geoffrey Rush), Best Supporting Actress (Helena Bonham Carter), Best Cinematography (Danny Cohen), Best Film Editing (Tariq Anwar), Best Costume Design (Jenny Beavan), Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), Best Sound Mixing (Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen, John Midgley), Best Art Direction (Eve Stewart, Judy Farr)

SUMMARY:  In 1925, King George V (Michael Gambon) asks his second son, Prince Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth) to deliver the closing speech at the Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium, which will also be broadcasted over the newly-popularized radio.  This speech reveals to the listeners that the Duke has a severe stammer.  Over the years, the Duke has investigated several cures and consulted many different physicians, but nothing has helped.  He has given up hope of finding a cure, but his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) has not.  She finds a London speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), originally from Australia, and convinces her husband to see him.  Lionel insists on informality and personal relationships, even calling the Duke “Bertie”, as his family does.  This offends the Duke, who decides to leave.  Before he can do so, Lionel bets him a shilling that the Duke can read a passage of Shakespeare without stammering.  To prove this, he records the Duke on a record, then has him read while wearing headphones that are blasting music.  The Duke is convinced that this experiment was a failure, and leaves; as he goes, Lionel gives him the record.  After delivering his Christmas speech in 1934, King George V, who is in failing health, tells Albert that his older brother and heir to the throne, David (Edward, Prince of Wales), will be a disaster as a King.  He demands that Albert overcome his stammer, believing that it will be up to him to lead the Empire.  Despite his father’s criticism and unkind comments, Albert is unable to recite the speech without a stammer.  Later than night, he finds Lionel’s recording of his reading, and turns it on.  To his surprise, the Duke hears himself reciting Shakespeare without a stammer.  He returns to Lionel’s office with his wife, where he agrees to continue the therapy, so long as personal matters are kept out of the mix.  Together, the Duke and Lionel do muscle and breathing exercises, but Lionel continues to ask personal questions.  Eventually, he learns that the stammer is probably a result of the Duke’s unhappy and high-pressure childhood.

In 1936, King George V dies, and David becomes King Edward VIII.  However, David is determined to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, who is still married to her second husband.  As the head of the Church of England, David cannot marry a divorced woman.  Albert tries repeatedly to talk his brother out of this madness, but David refuses to give in.  He even lashes out at Albert, taunting him about his stammer (which causes Albert to do so uncontrollably).  The next time he sees Lionel, Albert expresses his disgust and frustration with his brother, and with the fact that he still stammers badly around him.  Lionel also suggests that Albert would make a better king than his brother, which infuriates Albert.  He taunts Lionel about his roots and failed acting career, then leaves.  Not long after, David does abdicate in order to marry Wallis Simpson, and Albert becomes King George VI.  Lionel has tried to see Albert several times to apologize by now, but Albert has always refused to see him.  Finally, Albert and Elizabeth go to the Logues’ house, where Albert apologizes to Lionel.  After this, they resume their training.  However, when the two are practicing for the coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey, Albert discovers that Lionel is not really a doctor, as he had assumed.  He asks Lionel about this, and learns that Lionel originally got into speech therapy when he helped WWI shell-shock victims in Australia.  Despite his lack of qualifications, Albert decides to keep working with Lionel.  In 1939, Britain declares war on Germany, and the King must make a radio speech to the Empire; Lionel goes with him.  Inside the radio room (with only the two men inside), the King begins haltingly, having to make use of almost all the techniques Lionel has taught him to overcome the stammer.  However, as he continues, he becomes more and more confident, and relies less and less on the techniques and Lionel’s encouragement.  After delivering the speech, the King and his family greet the assembled crowd, who are cheering wildly.  At the end of the film, it is noted that Lionel was with the King for all of his wartime speeches, and that the two men remained friends for the rest of their lives.

MY TAKE:  This was a very interesting movie for me, for several reasons.  First of all, I’m a big WWII buff, so I was automatically interested.  Also, King George VI was the father of the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, and she can be seen in the movie as a young girl.  This was also the first movie I had seen with Geoffrey Rush that was not a Pirates of the Caribbean movie (he plays Captain Barbossa), which was a little odd, but interesting.  Finally, half of the cast of this movie is also in the Harry Potter movies – in fact, this movie had to delay filming because Helena Bonham Carter (who broke type and played a sane person in this movie) was working on those films.  In the Potter movies, she is Bellatrix Lestrange; Michael Gambon, who plays King George V, is Albus Dumbledore; Timothy Spall, who plays Churchill, is Peter Pettigrew (which made it really hard to trust him in this movie).  Furthermore, Guy Pearce, who plays Edward, Prince of Wales, also starred in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.  He was hilarious in that movie as a flamboyant drag queen, so it was also a little hard for me to take him seriously in this movie.  However, all of the actors really proved their depth by convincingly playing the various members and associates of the royal family.  Helena Bonham Carter is particularly good:  she seems to be the dutiful and supportive wife who always defers to her husband, but in reality she is a very strong woman who is not afraid to push Albert.  She also has a dry sense of humor and is fairly sarcastic, which makes her great fun to watch.  In my opinion, she should have won the Oscar (Melissa Leo won for The Fighter).

RATING:  Very good, inspiring.

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