One of the requirements to holding any kind of public office is a sharp tongue. That being said, a king with a speech impediment is simply coated with irony; it sounds like a great political satire. However, director Tom Hopper (The Damned United), alongside screenwriter David Seidler (Malice in Wonderland (the 1985 T.V. movie, not the Snoop Dogg album, just to be clear) and Tucker: The Man and His Dream) have taken a more historical (and thus realistic) route, tapping into the criminally underappreciated story of King George VI. The King’s Speech chronicles the hijinks and hoopla surrounding the king of Britain, Albert Frederick Arthur ‘Bertie’ George (or as he’d refer to himself, Ge-Ge-Ge-orge), a real-life “stutterbug” who inherited the throne from his brother, Edward VIII, when he relinquished the crown in order to marry an American socialite. In the film, Colin Firth plays the famous ruler with Geoffrey Rush rounding out the cast as Lionel Louge, George’s personal speech therapist who becomes the center of a much unexpected friendship. Although The King’s Speech does tackle the controversies surrounding the royal family, as well as the uprising of Hitler’s campaign, it remains more of a personal story — a tale of companionship and acceptance that though rather predictable, is also very well-done.
From the film’s very first scene, the humiliation is present in Firth’s character — made explicitly clear by the actor’s mannerisms. For George, a crowd of supporters and a microphone are far scarier than any political figurehead. Sometimes his condition, a life-changing impediment that almost completely shrouds his intellect, is presented humorously — poking fun at Hitler’s talent in public speaking — whereas in others, it is handled carefully — never bordering on being derogatory. But regardless of what context Seidler sculpts the character in, Firth gives a heavy-handed role that is sure to land him an Oscar nomination at the upcoming Academy Awards (making this year’s ceremony a real clash of the titans, with Firth, Jeff Bridges, and Ryan Gosling expected to garner nods).
However, a majority of the film’s likability is because of Firth’s chemistry with Rush, George’s unorthodox counterpart. Although they do not consider themselves equals in the first few moments of their relationship, the bond between them gradually blossoms. It eventually becomes a beautiful partnership — one that can overcome any obstacle, and it is this that stops George from becoming a one-note, heartless king, allowing him to become shockingly human. Adding to the effect is the versatile Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth, whose role in George’s characterization is key — without Elizabeth, who George treats with the utmost of respect, his relationship with Lionel, which begins tumultuously, would have been tainted. Audience members, who watch as George throws tantrums and verbally abuse Louge, would have associated George as nothing more than a dignified brute, but because of Carter’s character, who is employed with immaculate precision, George’s motives are clear — he’s just insecure.
It’s just a shame that Seidler is forced to separate the characters in order to move the plot along. When apart, The King’s Speech is at its weakest — being left wide open to uneeded superfluities which caused me to lose focus and interest (you may think otherwise, if you’re into the entire political scheme of things).
Fortunately, the majority of the film isn’t about politics, instead succeeding because of its very touching human component. And thanks to the chemistry between the film’s leading actors, The King’s Speech goes past being just a good film to being a gr-gr-gr-gr-eat film.