26 December 2010

The King's Speech

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech.

Lionel Logue: Why should I waste my time listening to you?
King George VI: Because I have a voice!
Lionel Logue: Yes, you do.

The King’s Speech is one of my favourite films of the year. The story of how King George VI (Colin Firth) overcame a debilitating stammer and went on to inspire confidence in his people and lead a nation into war is both compelling and heart wrenching.

The film begins in 1925 when the then Duke of York is asked to make a speech at the opening of the British Empire Exhibit. The scene is excruciating to watch as the Duke, clearly scared of the microphone, struggles to get his words out to an increasingly uncomfortable crowd.

The Duke and Duchess of York in 1923. Photo: E.O. HoppĂ©.

Years later, after the Duke has seen various doctors and specialists to no avail (some of their attempts included stuffing ones mouth with marbles and smoking cigarettes to relax the throat), his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), finds a new speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Logue is an Australian and a commoner who insists that his patients follow his rules, royalty or not. The two clash at first—the future king is all about protocol and class structure while Logue is unconventional and irreverent—but eventually trust grows and a friendship is formed. Their sessions are finally put to the test when the newly crowned king is called upon to give a speech to his people after war is declared on Germany.

The cast is outstanding. Colin Firth portrays George VI as a man who loves his country and family (the scenes with his daughters, the future Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Rose, are warm and touching), and believes fully in doing ones duty. Firth makes the king flesh and blood, giving a humanity to the man most people know just from black and white photos in history books. The scene where the king confesses to Logue about the horrible childhood he endured is shocking and truly heartbreaking. It should win Firth the Oscar.

Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech.

Geoffrey Rush does well as Logue, clearly having fun with the tongue twisters he gets to recite while also evoking the feelings of being an outsider. And Helena Bonham Carter manages to express the queen’s love and concern for her husband with just her eyes (I think she would have made a great silent screen actress) and brings a liveliness to the woman who would become the beloved Queen Mum.

The other performances that round out the film are stellar, from Michael Gambon’s blustery King George V to Guy Pearce’s spot-on spoiled King Edward VIII.

The only time I was distracted was in the scene where the king meets Logue’s wife, played by Jennifer Ehle. I let out a silent squeal because all I could think of was “It’s Darcy and Elizabeth.” I’m afraid Colin Firth will forever remain Mr. Darcy in my mind.

So do go see The King’s Speech. You won’t be disappointed.

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