The Big Screen: A masterful speech

Posted: Thursday, February 03, 2011

The line would be even. I am pretty sure the line would be even.

In a contest to see what would make you more uncomfortable between the seats at Glacier Cinemas or watching Colin Firth brilliantly stammer his way through “The King’s Speech” as King George VI, the Vegas casinos would have a tough time projecting a favorite. Yes, chances are better than average that a half-hour into the movie, your knees will start to ache (and yes, I know I have whined about this before). Conversely, chances are easily better than average that a talent like Firth will portray a reluctant King with an embarrassing stutter so expertly that you will squirm in your seat (uncomfortable or otherwise).

Of course I would never actually endorse gambling. At least nothing more risky than plopping down good money to spend two-plus hours watching a movie you have no guarantee you’ll like – and spend those two-plus hours in a seat I can pretty much guarantee you won’t like (last seat reference, I promise).

Vegas would probably be able to give you good odds on other aspects of “The King’s Speech,” however. Odds are very good the film will pick up an Oscar or three. Odds are very good you will like the movie if you see it; if you are a teenager, those odds go down slightly for you and increase greatly for your parental units. Odds are excellent that at some point during director Tom Hooper’s film you will think to yourself, “I am so glad I didn’t live in Britain back in the day!” Too dirty, too dark, too wet, too dreary, too drab, and that applies to everything from the weather to the wallpaper.

What makes “The King’s Speech” unique, though, is the very different look it takes at the group of royal people who have been the centerpieces of countless movies already. There are no epic battles filled with thousands of extras swinging swords and trying to look busy just in case they make it into the final cut. There is very little melodrama as everybody backstabs, cheats, and murders his or her way to the throne. Instead, King George VI (Firth) is a man who would rather do just about anything other than be King.

His father, King George V (Michael Gambon), is good at his job. And he delivers his Christmas radio address with ease (radio is the new technology). George VI (“Bertie” to his friends) can’t get past a couple of opening words when attempting to speak to a crowd at the start of the film. Literally, he can’t. All he can muster is a series of guttural sounds and half-started words. Every time Bertie hit one of these walls, and there are many such occasions, I found myself wincing.

Bertie has no choice but to deal with his speech impediment once his father dies and his brother, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), abdicates his spot on the throne so that he can marry a divorcee. Luckily for Bertie, Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) has tracked down the unorthodox speech expert, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

Once Lionel and Bertie enter into their uneasy relationship, “The King’s Speech” really shines. Firth and Rush are arguably two of the top talents around and together they play out the complicated, deep, and eventually totally rewarding bond between the King of England and a commoner who loves Shakespeare. What screenwriter David Seidler has produced is a story about King George VI that has been almost entirely stripped of the usual pomp.

The result is splendid, and your knees will recover (that really is the last seat reference, I swear).

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