Sunday, February 13, 2011

The King's Speech (2010) * * * *

Directed by: Tom Hooper

Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce

Describing the plot of The King's Speech really makes the film seem less fascinating than it is. Someone would say, "The next king of England has a bad stammer and a therapist helps him to cure it. Yeah? And...?" The film must've been a hard sell for its producers, mostly because movie studios are enraptured with superhero films, prequels, "reboots", and anything that can be filmed in 3-D.  I wonder if the studio asked if The King's Speech could be shot in 3-D.

The King's Speech works so well because it takes an almost uncinematic plot and makes it crackle with life, wit, and empathy for the characters.     It's not simply a period piece with beautiful art direction and lots of people in English accents, but it is involving as a historical document and the depiction of an unlikely friendship.

The plot was already described in the first paragraph, sort of. Colin Firth is Prince Albert, second in line to the British throne to succeed his father George V (Michael Gambon).   He is happy to be second in line because his horrible stammer he has had since childhood keeps him from being able to speak publicly.  Public speaking is bad enough, but he also has trouble telling a bedtime story to his young daughters.  His supportive and concerned wife (Carter), turns to speech therapist after speech therapist with little success until she comes across a practice run by a failed actor (Rush) whose office is located in what would pass for a London slum.

At first, Firth is apprehensive about his therapy with the commoner Rush, especially since Rush's Lionel Logue insists that the two speak on a first-name basis, which is something that is not done between royalty and its subjects.     But it seems Logue may be on to something here and Firth finds himself not just a therapist, but a friend and confidant.  And just in time too, because Albert's brother (Pearce) assumes the throne after their father's death, but abdicates it famously so he could marry a twice-divorced American woman, thus thrusting Albert into the unwanted position of His Royal Highness.

The performances here work splendidly. Firth not only has the technical aspects of his performace down (the stammer is quite convincing), but his own insecurities also draw a lot of sympathy, even though he is a well-to-do prince.  Carter projects care, love, and support and it breaks her heart to see her husband unable to communicate even on a most personal level.  Geoffrey Rush has the best lines and a lot of fun as Logue, who is Australian (like Rush), and enjoys the idea of "my home, my rules" when laying down the law to Firth and Carter about his unusual therapy practices.

Naturally, the film has the right feel and look of pre-war 1930's England.    But the film also has a flow and sweep that makes it fascinating.  There are no long. flowery soliloquies and words for words sake here.  The King's Speech moves along rather quickly, which is delightfully unusual for a film that shatters all expectations and reveals a warm, quirky heart.