February 4, 2011


I did not want to see this movie. I was preparing myself for yawnsville. Nothing of the sort.

“The King’s Speech” is leading the Oscar nominations, and with good cause. Even though we more or less know the premise and the outcome (stammering royal needs to make important speech and somehow does), we don’t know the stakes, the historical situation, and the profoundly human story behind it all.

It’s 1925. British King George V’s son, Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth in an impeccable performance), has had a life-long stammer. No one has been able to help him. His wife, Elizabeth (HELENA Bonham-Carter), finds an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel, played by that chameleon, Geoffrey Rush. An amusing, ongoing power struggle ensues between doctor and patient, royal and commoner, continuing for most of the film and resolving into the true center here: friendship. And not just a friendship of mutual need, employer and hireling, or a closed-in friendship, but two men who always have in mind their service to the greater good, the common good, to duty and helping humanity.

If it had NOT been a friendship, the therapy would not have worked. This is evident from the best scene in the movie which takes place in Westminster Cathedral. Perhaps we have not plumbed the depths of what Jesus meant when he said: “I no longer call you servants, but friends.” Perhaps we have not tapped the power of true, altruistic, outward-looking friendship enough in our private and public lives. (Another film that highlights the power of friendship to do good in the public sphere is “Amazing Grace,” about William Wilberforce and his friend, the prime minister, who put their heads together to end slavery in England and pass other beneficial legislation during their lifetimes.)

“The King’s Speech” is something like the tale of the three workmen who were asked what they were doing. The first said, “laying brick,” the second said, “installing windows,” and the third said, “I’m building a cathedral!” Albert and Lionel always have sense of the bigger picture. “The King’s Speech” presents a nobility that is accessible and able to be practiced by all. A noble attitude. Something it seems to me we need to recover in today’s society. In fact, has our modern-day eschewing of some semblance of decency and societal mores really gotten us anywhere? I rather fancy them. They served a high purpose and gave direction and peace of mind. To the filmmakers’ great credit, these social mores are presented intact, without “modernizing” them or belittling them.

Just to clarify, without giving too much away—but of course, if we know our history, which I didn’t exactly, it won’t be giving anything away—Albert is not yet “king” when the movie opens. His brother, David, is next in line for the throne.

The exposition in “The King’s Speech” is masterful. There is much timely background we need to know about the famous “years between the wars,” yet we never feel like we’re being “instructed.” Apart from an early scene where Albert and Lionel sit opposite each other and their eye-lines are off and we can see them reading their lines, “Speech” is flawless and seamless.

Albert and the Duchess make a great pair, a great team. A lovely portrait of what marriage can be.

“Speech” is a total showcasing of the craft of acting. Long scenes; long, intense close-ups leave the actors totally exposed. And each actor—without any kind of grandstanding--fills the screen, fills up our cinema with intelligent emotional substance that leaves us rapt. Bravo.

Colin Firth does a fantastic imitation of Albert’s struggle to do something so mundane, and yet so vital, especially for his day (live speeches and radio) and his rank (world leader). And yet, Firth doesn’t drag out the stammering so much that we are in agony waiting for his next line. Just enough to let us know how real, burdening, frustrating and painstaking was the handicap.

Isn’t it interesting how so often we seem to be called to or thrust into a position that we are ill-equipped for? And yet we MUST succeed at? Or perhaps we often choose—consciously or subconsciously--to be or do something that involves conquering our biggest fear or what we’re NOT good at? Why can’t taxi drivers drive? Why can’t anchormen and anchorwomen talk? “Speech” isn’t just about one speech, but about the very act of speaking. Imagine if you could barely do it. The world of speech pathologies is opened up to us (at least as much as was known at the time) in a very creative and often lighthearted way.

King George V makes his own great “media literacy” speech to Albert about the new importance—in the life of a monarch/ruler--of being able to use media well. How they now are obliged to “invade people’s homes” as “actors,” and must become beloved celebrities this way. (Whereas, before, they just had to “look good in uniform” and not “fall of their horse in public." Ha ha.)

“Speech” is a well-rounded out, full-course meal, seasoned with dry British wit, while still being a slice of history—not easy, that.


--HELENA Bonham-Carter looks like she was born to wear 20’s/30’s styles.

--Corgis! (The present-day Queen Elizabeth II, Albert’s daughter, still has ‘em!)

--Great 1930’s inflections, pronunciations and vocabulary….

--British actress, Emily Blunt, used to stammer (or stutter), and one of her schoolteacher’s helped her overcome it by telling her to pretend she was someone else, put on a slight accent, and it worked!

--Very spooky when old newsreels of Hitler suddenly fill the entire screen and we feel like WE’RE in the theater watching this live, pre-WWII….

--Lionel looks like he’s conducting an opera when he’s working with Albert.

--Judicious soundtrack.

--Winston Churchill has a small but meaty part.

--Exaggerated, fictitious or otherwise: “Speech” worked in great turning points (e.g.: “Treason!”)

--Nice camera angles throughout. Reveals a lot of thought and preparation. They also serve to heighten and “show” Albert’s phobia of the microphone (or “apparatus” as Churchill calls it).

--The content of THE speech that the movie is named for is quite a doozie and certainly worthy of a movie.

--A quiet, understated, British ending. As humble and as great as Albert himself.

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  1. This film should win best picture. The Academy loves British period movies. Also the script is well written and entertaining. The give and take between Firth and Rush makes for good fun. They even win over the Archbishop of Canterbury in the end. And of course, ahem, HELENA as the Queen Mum is delightful. Thanks

  2. I didn't realize the Academy likes Brit films! I think that's a good thing! :] Yeah--Firth & Rush--great sparring! I love when Rush gets him mad... ha ha ha Technically, I think Albert's mother is the queen mum...and HELENA becomes queen.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly! Who would think that watching a movie about a speech would be so engrossing? It is a wonderful re-creation of a place in time (oh, the wardrobe!), and a terrific movie about male friendship, which is hard to come by.