Friday, January 14, 2011

Movie Review: The King's Speech

Nothing is easier to hate than wealthy, powerful people. They live lives of opulence and fancy, have off shore tax shelters, and never take public transportation. So how do you make a compelling story about a pampered rich man that rules over ¼ of the world’s population? You make him as real and sympathetic as Colin Firth makes The Duke of York, Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George (“Bertie,” to his family and for the sake of expediency) in Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech.

The year is 1925. After a disastrous speech at the British Empire Exhibition, Bertie (Colin Firth) reluctantly takes speech therapy sessions from the unorthodox Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Frustrated by his own insecurity and Logue’s methods, Bertie resigns to live life in the shadow of his charismatic brother Prince Edward, first in line to the throne. However, his brother abdicates within a year of assuming the crown, and Bertie is made King George VI. With a second Great War looming on the horizon, the Empire needs a king that can inspire confidence at home and abroad.

Logue’s lessons are downright hilarious, especially when he determines that Bertie doesn’t stutter when he’s angry, cursing, or singing. When he manages to get Bertie doing all three of these simultaneously, it’s truly a sight to behold. The audience actually applauded when Bertie finished a rampaging soliloquy of f-words, s-words, and words that were so British I didn’t understand them. It was astonishing. Through these lessons, Bertie and Logue develop an odd-couple style friendship which quickly becomes the focus of the film.

While nobody but royals can sympathize with the ennui of royal existence, almost everyone has been nervous as hell in front of an audience--be it a school play or a professional presentation. Director Tom Hooper expertly taps into this primal fear with great effect. The first speech of the film is downright painful, and from the get-go we’re rooting for Bertie to overcome his stutter and inspire his kingdom.

The King’s Speech brilliantly cast and emotionally gripping with an exquisite balance of comedy and drama. If you don’t mind swear words, this is a must see. Watch it and you can feel smug about legitimately enjoying a foreign film.

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