An Inspirational “Speech” Delivered
By Jacob Walters ’14, A&L Section Editor
Inspirational films are not films which I typically enjoy; more often than not, they are overwrought and underwritten, often relying on solid performances to attain any acclaim in spite of less than compelling and glossed-over screenplays. However, “The King’s Speech” proves that even a genre prone to such faults can contain great films, as here is a much better film than just about any of its type to come along in years. It’s a drama to be sure, and it contains moments of true emotional heft. But it is also at times breezy, and isn’t at all profoundly depressing in the way many dramas of this quality are. It’s a true crowd-pleaser through and through. What makes it work then? For one, “The King’s Speech” is much better written than most such films; it creates believable characters and believable interplay as opposed to cardboard cut-outs and clichés. It’s often very funny, but, while it would have been slightly better had it gone further into the King’s internal conflict, it doesn’t forget to explore the turmoil the titular character is facing throughout the film. Secondly, “The King’s Speech” features not just a good performance in the leading role, but an amazing one.

The film is the story of Prince Albert, Duke of York, later known as King George VI (Colin Firth), who has a problem in his pronounced stammer and the fact that such an office as his requires significant public speaking. Although he has tried to overcome his stammer multiple times, nothing has worked and, still only a Duke, he feels as though the amount of public speaking that is required of him isn’t worth a treatment which he doesn’t believe will work. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), feels differently, however. She, in spite of her husband’s lack of faith, decides to give it one last try, consulting Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist known for his unorthodox methods. Initially reluctant, Albert reconsiders when his father dies and his brother, the new King, is forced to resign when he chooses to marry a divorced woman, an act which is condemned by the church of which he is nominally the head. Because of this, Albert is forced to accept the role of King as next in line to the throne. With Hitler rising to power and war on the verge of consuming Europe, the new King has to come to terms with the fact that his speech’s will serve as a voice of confidence and trust to the public, and he has no choice but to continue his therapy with Logue, forming a friendship in the process.

It’s been a weak year for films, but not so much for performances, and, amidst a solid handful of great ones, Colin Firth gives, by far, the best. For two hours, he truly is King George VI. It’s downright absorbing watching his performance, which is at times heart-breaking. In his hands, King George is a man whose courage defies logic, frequently displayed by the speeches he gives. The opening in particular is a truly brilliant display of acting, as we watch him try with all his might to force the words out of his mouth and refusing to give up, only for his stutter (which is constantly a presence but never seems forced) to hold him back. His face in particular is hugely emotive: conveying anger, sadness and embarrassment within seconds of each other, It’s hard to imagine a more forceful, believable and downright brilliant portrayal of the role.

It’s worth noting that, in spite of Firth’s performance, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush are entirely capable of commanding the screen and even stealing scenes, as both are superb in their respective roles as well. Bonham Carter creates both a wife who loves her husband and a queen who understands what he means to his people. Rush is simultaneously emotionally involving and quite funny. Some of his lines generate big laughs, which keeps the film light when it needs to be, and the interplay between him and the stodgier King is entirely believable. The character has as much depth as Firth’s though, as we come to view the struggle to mean as much for him as it does for the King.

One of the biggest pleasures of watching the film is actually watching the way Logue is capable of both holding his own against the King and giving us a glimpse into his life. Around Logue, King George (or Bertie, as Logue demands to call him) sheds his pretenses of Kingship and opens up, which is much of the reason why we connect with him. His reluctance to be King but acceptance and understanding of how he must be King drives the character. Through Logue, an everyman, he is able to simultaneously be fully aware of and forget that he is King and connect with him and the audience.

In recent years, relatively predictable films seem to have gotten the shaft in the minds of many supposedly looking for something more off the beaten path. A film can throw all the plot twists or inventive ideas at you that it wants to, but it all comes down to the execution when it’s said and done. “The King’s Speech” is an example for how this holds true for a more predictable film as well. There’s nothing necessarily surprising in the narrative here, except for how well it is told, which is what matters. It’s superbly produced, assuredly directed, funny, heart-warming, emotionally involving, exciting and very, very well-acted. “The King’s Speech” has a soul and, thanks to the care clearly put into every aspect of the film, it’s a truly rousing success.

Issue 13, Submitted 2011-02-02 00:23:01