Photo courtesy of Time Warner
British filmmakers sure do buddy movies a lot differently.
“The King’s Speech” is a classic tale about the king who must rely on the commoner to achieve his ends. Right away, the audience feels sympathy for George VI (Colin Firth), a nervous, hot-tempered man with a terrible speech impediment. After an agonizingly awkward speech at the closing of the 1925 Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium, George VI seeks elocution lessons from a number of speech therapists. At the advice of his wife, Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), he meets with the unconventional and “controversial” Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), and together they work to find the root of the king’s fear of public speaking.
“Speech’s” source material seems so excellent that it’s a wonder that this film took so long to make. Start with a base of royal flavor and family melodrama, add a pinch of the looming Nazi threat in 1930s Britain, then drizzle with an unlikely friendship, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for Oscar bait. But all of that would be for naught if “Speech” weren’t a genuinely good film. Which it totally is.
“Speech” succeeds on virtually every level. As a period drama, the film works splendidly. Granted, I’m a sucker for any film with British accents. But you shan’t be finding any chimney sweeps or singing orphans in this film.
The foggy streets of London prove to be a fitting backdrop, capturing the uncertainty of a king and a country on the brink of war. The juxtaposition of George VI’s speeches with those of Adolf Hitler is quite striking and reflects the significance of public speech in persuasion.
As such, “Speech” is quite a suspenseful film despite any large-scale action. At times, my palms were sweating as the king tried to speak and failed. I found the film thoroughly engaging; my desire for the king to succeed and give a big “Go kill those Nazis!” speech was so great that at times I wanted to yell at the screen, “Just say something!” (In fact, a woman behind me kept whispering that phrase during several pivotal scenes in the film.)
My interest in the film was piqued when Colin Firth won best actor at this year’s Golden Globe Awards. I’ve always been a fan of Firth’s work; he’s like a Hugh Grant that I don’t want to punch in the face.
Certainly in “Speech,” Firth has earned his accolades. He becomes George VI in this film, with his coarse demeanor and every one of those weird little throat noises (they will make you wince). Out of place in his own skin as he is forced onto the throne, Firth humanizes the king like no other could—at times a pitiable wreck and at others an admirable symbol of strength.
Sure, “The King’s Speech” is an inspiring period piece about England during the lead up to World War II, but what really makes the film shine is the almost whimsical relationship between the stammering monarch and his witty Australian speech therapist.
This is where Geoffrey Rush comes through in a big way. He’s funny, he’s charming and most of all, he’s believable. The best moments on screen come when he and Firth are interacting. The odd couple relationship turns this piece into buddy comedy at times.
Firth and Rush’s rapport is unique; you don’t often see a (dare I say it…) “bromance” between two gentlemen in their 50s, let alone in 1930s Britain. Still, the two manage to have a lot of fun yelling swear words, waltzing and singing, while still maintaining a relationship that allows them to be serious with one another. It never crosses over the threshold to the unrealistic, remaining continuously captivating without falling flat. And without stuttering.