"The King's Speech" Movie Review

1/17/2011 Posted by Admin

"The King's Speech"

Movie Review

Directed by Tom Hooper, written by David Seidler, 118 minutes, rated R.

By Christopher Smith

God save the competition, because when the Academy announces its picks for this year's Academy Award nominations, "The King's Speech" is certain to pass around its crown and collect a devastating share of them.

The movie is that good--it's one of the best times I've had at the movies in months. Working from David Seidler's script, which balances wit and mischief with the shame and rage one man feels about being saddled with a stammer, director Tom Hooper creates a movie that is at once light and witty--and overwhelmingly dark, sad and claustrophobic.

The film opens in 1925 at the British Empire Exhibition, where King George V's son, Prince Albert (Colin Firth, primed for his second Best Actor nomination in a row), is about to address not only a packed Wembley Stadium, but also--more terrifying--a microphone that looks something like a bullet. That microphone is poised to cast his voice to a quarter of the world, which for Albert is akin to taking a bullet to the chest.

The prince suffers from a stammer, which makes this address the last thing he wants to do, but Royals have duties and no stammer will stop them from performing them, particularly when your father (Michael Gambon) is the king and he demands that you see those duties through.

With trepidation, Albert begins his speech, flop sweat forms, the words get lodged--and disaster occurs. Powerless, he is forced to stand there and struggle with his disability while watching the crowd turn away from him in embarrassment. It's only his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, well deserving of the nomination she'll receive), who doesn't turn her back to him.

In fact, she decides to fully back him.

With an appealing pluck, she goes to the newspaper and clips out an advertisement that leads her to one Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush, reminding us why he matters in the film's third performance that will enjoy a nomination).

Logue is a speech therapist who uses some rather unconventional methods to cure his clients of their stammer. Since Elizabeth wants to be treated as a commoner so she can have a complete idea of what Logue is like, she introduces herself as "Mrs. Johnson," who is there because her husband needs help with his stutter. The dynamic that forms between them is a treat. Since Lionel has no idea that he's dealing with a Royal, the casual way he treats her is a jolt to audiences, but amusing to Elizabeth.

Sold on Logue, she brings along Albert, who Lionel recognizes at once. In that moment, the room seems to shrink around him. But Lionel is nothing if not real, and soon he's over being star struck. He tells Albert that this is his castle and if they are going to work together, it will be by his rules.

Given that Albert is second in line to the crown, you can imagine how that directive goes over, but soon they're working together and making progress, until Albert's father dies, his older brother (Guy Pierce) becomes King Edward VIII and then throws it all away to marry the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson (Eve Best). In a quick turn of events, Albert is suddenly King George VI, and thus placed in the unwanted position of being put front and center. With World War II building, the pressure he feels as king is enormous, which makes his stutter worse. Since the church and the Royal court want nothing to do with Lionel, they toss him out. And what does that mean for Albert, who must face his public on the eve of war, just when they need to hear him and his words most?

What ensues is engrossing for a host of reasons, the first being the terrific acting ensemble. Firth, Rush and Carter are a force onscreen. While Rush and Carter often steal the movie's lighter moments, it's Firth who must carry the film's weight and convey what it must be like to suffer from a stutter.

Watching his struggle is like watching a master class in acting. For those who have ever suffered from a stutter, as I once did, you can fully appreciate the humiliation and rage the crosses Firth's face in caustic waves as he tries to force the words out. He is nothing short of riveting, he nails Albert's plight in all its complexities, and it's for this reason that Firth is a major threat to win the Academy Award.

Grade: A

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