Recently opening in Whitehorse and fully deserving of its twelve Oscar nominations is The King’s Speech.
The film features British actor Colin Firth as King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II, and Brisbane native Geoffrey Rush as the Australian speech therapist who helped the king conquer an acute stammering problem.
History tells us how Albert, Duke of York, became the unlikely choice for the British monarchy when his brother King Edward VIII became one of the shortest-reigning English kings in history.
In 1936 Edward abdicated his throne, faced with a choice between provoking a constitutional crisis and marrying his mistress, the American divorcée Wallis Simpson.
The King’s Speech opens with Albert’s wife Elizabeth (who has come to be commonly known as the Queen Mother by this generation) seeking the help of a variety of doctors for her husband’s speech problems.
Her efforts prove fruitless until frustrated actor and therapist Lionel Logue offers a glimmer of hope. Logue’s methods are unorthodox, but Prince Albert reluctantly accepts his help when some progress is made.
When Albert ascends to the throne, the need to conquer his stammering becomes all the more urgent.
Ever mindful of the acute embarrassment he suffered when broadcasting a tongue-tied speech at the opening of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium in 1925, he dreads his coronation speech.
Logue’s assistance proves invaluable. More important, a genuine bond of friendship develops between the reluctant monarch and his therapist.
Firth’s portrayal of George VI is multi-faceted and gripping.
We come to know the human face behind the crown: the tender father who dotes on his two young daughters; the isolated and troubled monarch, who knows so little of the world of the common man; the therapy subject who alternates between imperious impatience and tenacious struggle.
Rush’s performance is also outstanding. He refuses to be bullied by the imperial presence, and treats Albert as a friend rather than a king, alternately invoking anger and gratitude.
Helena Bonham Carter delivers a masterful portrayal of the king’s wife. Her patience, resourcefulness and kindness go a long way toward evoking empathy for the institution of the monarchy.
The King’s Speech is British director Tom Hooper’s third feature, and he’s in the running for Best Director honors at the 83rd annual Academy Awards on February 27 for his masterful work with his excellent cast.
Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Seidler has a personal connection to speech difficulties. When his family first emigrated to the U.S. from England during the Second World War, he developed a stammer on the boat ride over, likely a response to the emotional trauma of the conflict.
Coincidentally, while writing the screenplay Seidler discovered that his own uncle, also a stutterer, had been sent by his father to be treated by Lionel Logue.
Although I have never been much of a royalist, and have not seen much relevance for the British monarchy in today’s world, it was a personal revelation to watch how the British people hung on their king’s every word in their gravest hour, as he solemnly announced England’s declaration of war against Germany in 1939.
The King’s Speech brings home the importance of the monarchy as a living symbol for the bravery of Britons through the conflict.
The King’s Speech plays at the Yukon Theatre at 6:45 and 9:00 pm, and is rated PG for coarse language.
Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.