This post holds the distinction of being my first review of a movie still playing in theaters in its initial run. That doesn't warrant any celebration, but I thought it was neat.
As a college graduate with degrees in English and Journalism, it's a thrill to see movie about the importance and power of words. While I specialize in the written word, I appreciate oratory skills and the impact a good speech can have. The King's Speech (2010) shows a man overcome a stutter through the help of his wife and speech therapist , gains self-confidence, and by film's end is able to imbue his country with strength and reassurance.
The movie opens in 1925 with Prince Albert (Colin Firth), the Duke of York, giving a speech at one of the largest gatherings in the history of the British Empire. His stutter makes the experience painful for him and the audience. At the urging of his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), Bertie, as his family calls him, begins seeing speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a failed Australian actor not intimidated by royal authority. When Albert's older brother King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), chooses to abdicate to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson, Bertie must assume the throne, and with war against Germany brewing, the nation needs someone who can instill confidence and strength in dark times.
The King's Speech works on three levels. The first is the progression of Bertie's therapy and his transformation from a meek, behind-the-scenes nobleman into a more assured and confident monarch. This is achieved both from the support of his wife and the prodding of Lionel. Lionel does not let his patient's position intimidate him; he challenges the prince, gets him to open up, and shows him what he's capable of. The back-and-forth between Firth and Rush is tremendous, both moving and funny.
The other two levels are more background but are no less fascinating. Since this is a period piece, we see the country shift from the 1920s to the beginning of World War II, and this reveals the larger stakes of the film. A nation at war requires a strong leader, but a leader who's unsure of his own voice is unsure of himself.
The third level is the role of new technology. Albert's father, King George V (Michael Gambon) laments the invention of radio, complaining it requires kings to sound regal instead of just looking important. Instead of speaking to a handful of subjects at a time, a king will now speak to the quarter of the world's population that falls under the British Empire. We must be actors, the old king says.
The great achievement of the film is how it takes what could have been a dry subject and elevates it to a moving, honest, and often funny motion picture. All the actors the terrific, the period settings feel authentic, and the film offers insight to some of the most important leaders in world history. Highly recommended.
Side note: I first heard of this film when it was in pre-production. A website misidentified director Tom Hooper (who, along with Firth, Rush, and Carter, has been nominated for an Oscar) as Tobe Hooper, the director behind The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist. I suppose that's an easy mistake to make.