Thrust onto the public stage in 1936 when his brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, Bertie, as his friends called him, led Britain during the difficult pre-World War II period and throughout the war, a time when radio broadcasts informed and united a nation. Bertie/George VI experiences the dread and panic that comes with this royal duty. Similarly, his subjects fear his delivering another disastrous speech as he already has in the opening scene of the film. This momentous, infamous occasion—the closing ceremony at Wembley Stadium of the 1925 Empire Exhibition—is painful to watch and hear, and so we know what struggles he faces. His wife, Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother as most of us knew her), has, desperate to help Bertie, found the unorthodox Logue. The amusing but also touching speech therapy sessions anchor the film. I believe anyone every tongue tied or struck with stage fright will empathize in profound ways with Bertie's courageous effort.
As Bertie/King George VI, Colin Firth is already a certain Oscar candidate, if not winner. The same goes for Geoffrey Rush as Logue, a stunning working classes contrast to Bertie. To be sure, Firth gives a spectacular performance, convincingly embodying nuances of Bertie's frustration, vulnerability and anger. As his wife and Queen, Helena Bonham Carter also shines. At this year's Telluride film festival, where I first saw The King's Speech, Firth spoke passionately and movingly about playing Bertie, of listening for hours to recordings of his speech. He said that he decided the best way to play Bertie was to try not to stutter in order to convey the struggle. His achievement in this regard results in a powerfully emotional presentation without ever spilling over into showmanship.
As another individual who suffered from stuttering, David Seidler wrote the screenplay, infusing it with a personal poignancy. He enlivens this immensely entertaining film with witty exchanges and moments of laugh-out-loud humor. Even the title The King's Speech has multiple connotations. Equally superior, cinematographer Danny Cohen translates director Tom Hooper's ideas into visually arresting images shot largely on location. Throughout the film, asymmetrical compositions and wide-angle lenses capture Bertie's anxiety and anguish in off-kilter framing. Hard light adds realism with warm colors saved for family scenes. Cavernous Westminster Abbey dwarfs events, and symmetry takes over as Bertie finally gains his balance.
The King's Speech is a masterful, crowd-pleasing film in all the best ways: content, style, and performances. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Cinema.