Britons! And royals! And a disability--Oh my! “The King’s Speech” is so dripping with Oscar bait, you’re almost embarrassed for it. And yet, two hours later, the story told is so well crafted, you totally forgive the film its naked ambitions and the fact that it’s basically “Hoosiers” for people with speech defects.
Colin Firth stars as Albert Frederick Arthur George, “Bertie” to his friends, Prince Albert (in a can!) to his subjects, a man who suffers from a debilitating stammer, one that makes his closing remarks at the 1925 British Empire Exhibition as tortuous for listeners as it was for the prince.
The experience is so grueling that Bertie’s wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter), seeks out the services of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a little known speech therapist. Logue works out of a large, rundown space littered with flaking wallpaper and tattered upholstery that doubles as the home he shares with his wife and their children.
The film’s success hinges entirely on the relationship between Bertie and Lionel, and Firth and Rush make it work. They’re perfect foils for each other, the clenched royal and the irreverent commoner who demands to call His Highness “Bertie,” an unheard of show of familiarity by royal standards.
"The King’s Speech” will almost surely earn Firth another Oscar nod, as his innate Britishness makes Bertie's very personal struggle all the more painful, and Rush, who won ages ago for "Shine," will likely be in the awards mix as well.
The structure of the film is basically that of a ”based on a true story” underdog sports film, with Rush cajoling, coaching, browbeating and cheering Firth to greatness. Well, maybe not greatness, but certainly not-bad-ness.Watching two men try to tackle a speech defect could be a crushing bore, but director Tom Hooper ("The Damn United") keeps things moving, thanks in large part to an often funny script by David Seidler.
As Bertie’s training continues, his success becomes ever more imperative when his brother, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), suddenly abdicates the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, leaving Bertie to be king with England teetering on the brink of war with Germany.
One of the film’s best tricks is flipping the commonly held perception of Edward VII from that of a great romantic who gave up rule of one-fourth of the world’s people to be with the woman he loved. Instead, the film paints him as a petulant, selfish and trifling fool. How this jibes with Madonna vision of Edward and Wallis we may never know.
“The King’s Speech” is a pretty simple story elevated by some outstanding acting, crisp direction and the fact that at its core is a totally relatable problem with millions of lives at stake.