Saturday, December 25, 2010

The King's Speech

In the age of the Internet and high speed wireless devices comes a tale about radio. When you've got you're entire music library on a MP3 player, and can get your news from any number of 24-hour cable news channels, it's easy to forget how vital a communication device radio was, and how a single speech could change the tide of history.

The King's Speech begins and ends with speeches by Prince Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth) who would go on to rule the British Empire as King George VI. The differences between the speech he gives at at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley as the King's son and the famous speech he gave as King to the British people, uniting them as they marched to war, is what the film is all about.

Written by David Seidler and directed by Tom Hooper, The King's Speech gives us a rousing performance by an actor at the height of his game, and a traditional story masterfully retold.

Haunted throughout his life by a stammer and inalienably to speak at public functions causes Albert's wife to search out a unorthodox speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush). A friendship develops between the Duke and Lionel (Rush) who insists on treating him as he would any other patient.

Albert is forced to take the throne when his brother (Guy Pearce) abdicates in favor of the love of a woman the British government cannot support. Thrown into the burning spotlight the new king, now branded King George VI, finds all his worst nightmares made real. With the help of Lionel, the King works to control his stammer and ready himself the biggest moment of his life: a live radio address to the British people to prepare them as they enter World War II.

As great as Firth is (and he's outstanding, just give the man the Oscar), I want to take a moment to note Helena Bonham Carter, in her small but vital role as the woman behind the throne. It's such a joy to see her in a role outside the realms of Tim Burton and Harry Potter.

Is the film a little reminiscent of similiar tales (such as My Fair Lady)? Perhaps, but the execution and level of filmmaking save it from becoming a flaccid and dreadful sugar-coated history lesson (remember Secretariat?).

If anyone is hurt by structure of the film it's Rush, who gets the short end of the stick here by playing the eccentric whose oddball practices and techniques are the keys to his success. Don't get me wrong, he gives a great performance (and he need to in order to make the character more than just the film's central plot device). Considering the level of his performance, and the strength of the script overall it's actually a small complaint, but I would have liked to have seen Lionel fleshed-out a little more. There's a great scene where his wife discovers her husband has been treating the new king which suggests ample material to help flesh-out his character a little more.

Even with a few small complaints, it's hard to argue that this isn't one of the year's besf films. Those looking for a traditional holiday movie couldn't do much better than The King's Speech. Beautifully shot and framed, and with strong performances all around (especially from it's star), this is the kind of rousing cinematic tale that millions can, and should, both appreciate and enjoy.

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