By Caitlin Gardner
There is immediate skepticism attached to The King’s Speech. Yes, Colin Firth plays King George VI of England who could bloody well stammer. Is there anything more Oscar-bait than playing royalty, much less a real-life figure who has a disability?
To say that is The King’s Speech in a nutshell is really downplaying the work of Director Tom Hopper and Screenwriter David Seidler, who bring a lot of style and substance into what could have just been your average overcoming a disability story, hardly an original movie idea.
Additionally, this movie is also a story of a transcending friendship between King George VI, a.k.a ‘Bertie,’ and his speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian commoner.
Hooper and Seidler truly make this historical period drama something very cinematic, stylish, but ultimately, driven by the actors.
Firth’s stammers are not done in a way to get laughs or make you feel sorry for the poor Duke of York, who becomes King by way of abdication. They come off as painful, almost as if the character is fighting within his body to speak properly. It never rings false or insincere on screen, and there is no magic cure at the very end of the film.
The methods Logue uses are not about a cure as much as about control. It is also about the person having a support system. Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen Mother Elizabeth I plays a loving wife with such subtlety, a bit shocking when you consider her roles in the Harry Potter series and the Tim Burton films. Geoffrey Rush as Logue is step by step there with Firth’s Bertie in acting.
When I say the director and screenwriter bring levity to this film, it is not without a deep trust in these three actors. Most of the film is set in a single room where the actors are shot in innumerable close-ups and mid-shots. When we look at the faces of these people we expect and demand sincerity and the cast, except for Timothy Spall’s appalling caricature of Churchill, pass with flying colors.
The King’s Speech is total Oscar-bait, just on completely superficial terms. But the direction, a script full of humanity and humor, and three actors who flesh out that script make The King’s Speech award-worthy.