By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
I’m speechless. Well, almost.
We’ve had films about the British monarchy in recent years, including The Queen and The Young Victoria. Both are fine.
But this fact-based comedic drama, originally intended to be a stage play, is better than fine — it’s magnificent.
The King’s Speech is admittedly stagebound and seemingly modest in budget and scope. But it’s absolutely spellbinding in its nuance and detail, and is intensely and irresistibly focused on the unlikely friendship between its two fascinating central characters.
Yep, it’s a buddy flic, a bromance. And it’s a triumph.
Colin Firth is stupendous as the tortured Prince Albert, the Duke of York, called “Bertie” by his inner circle, the Brit (and father of Queen Elizabeth II) who is plagued with a debilitating stutter until his wife — who would eventually become the Queen Mother, played subtly and slyly by Helena Bonham Carter — convinces him to turn himself over to impudent and unorthodox Australian speech therapist (and failed actor) Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush, who matches Firth every electrifying step of the way.
Albert, destined but reluctant to become King George VI — if for no other reason than the public speaking responsibilities that he and his speech impediment will have to commit to — does so when his popular older brother, Edward VIII, unprecedentedly abdicates to marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson and instead become merely the Duke of Windsor.
Nevertheless, he protests strongly when Logue attempts to uncover the psychoanalytical reasons behind his stammer, but the resourceful Logue cleverly wins the battle of wills and helps him to overcome his limitations and exhibit a form of bravery that is extraordinarily moving.
The script by David Seidler, based on journal entries and first-person acounts, taps into our universal fear of public speaking, and provides a history lesson — for Americans, at least — about two men, a royal and a commoner, who have pretty much been ignored by history.
Director Tom Hooper (The Damned United, HBO’s “John Adams”) focuses on his two leads, to be sure, but also allows a splendid ensemble to ably support them, including Michael Gambon as George V, Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop, Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, Guy Pearce as King Edward VIII, Claire Bloom as Queen Mary, Eve Best as Wallis Simpson, and Jennifer Ehle as Logue’s wife.
Furthermore, Hooper has the admirable artistic audacity to not only spend the lion’s share of a film about British royalty in a drab London flat, but to use as his film’s climax a scene in which King George’s live 1939 radio speech to rally the nation and inform the international community after England declares war on Germany, with millions of folks around the world hanging on his every urgent, difficult word.
And an indelible scene, one of many, it is — tense, suspenseful, inspiring, cathartic, and satisfying — an end that sparkles just as much as the means do.
The best actor Oscar nominees will surely include Firth, who was nominated for A Single Man last year and may very well not only get back-to-back nominations — a rare occurrence — but actually win it this time.
And best actor winner Rush (Shine), who already has three best actor nominations to his credit (Quills, Shakespeare in Love) and whose scenes opposite Firth comprise a master class in screen acting, will just as surely be on the best supporting actor Oscar ballot.
So we’ll enunciate all 4 stars out of 4 for The King’s Speech, a masterfully witty and graceful, completely engaging period dramedy anchored by monumental performances by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.
It’s the man who would be king in the film that would be kingly. And is.