Review: The King's Speech


Directed by: Tom Hooper
Written by:David Seidler
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall
Released: December 26, 2010
Grade: A

Who ruled Great Britain before Queen Elizabeth II? She’s been on the throne for so long that many people wouldn’t have the slightest idea.  The answer is King George VI.  He was Britain’s monarch from 1936 until his death in 1952.

His unlikely ascension to the throne is chronicled in this amazing film from director Tom Hooper.  Known within the family as “Bertie”, Albert Frederick Arthur George (Firth) was never expected to be king.  This was because he was the second son of King George V.  His older brother, Edward (Pearce), was first in line and had been impeccably groomed to take the throne when the need arose.

That situation presented itself in January 1936 when their father died at the age of 70.  The charismatic Edward became king and Bertie could breathe a sigh of relief.  He never really wanted the throne.  He was happy to leave the mantle to his more outgoing, more charismatic brother.

Unfortunately for Bertie, a constitutional crisis was about to present itself.  King Edward wanted to marry an American divorcee by the name of Wallis Simpson.  The government threatened to resign if the marriage went ahead and so Edward abdicated the throne.  As they say, the rest is now history.  Bertie, now known as George VI, became King of the United Kingdom in December 1936 and ruled during World War II.

Much of this story is told in The King’s Speech but the film’s focus is on Bertie’s relationship with an Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Rush).  Ever since he was a child, Bertie had suffered from a terrible stutter.  The pressure of his role and the fact he often had to speak publically only made things worse.  His wife (Carter) had found numerous therapists but none had made an impact.

Lionel Logue was different however.  His methods were unorthodox and he had a somewhat odd sense of humour.  A trust developed between the pair and Bertie’s stutter started to improve.  Their friendship had to be kept a secret however.  The palace didn’t want it known that George was being helped by an unknown Australian with few credentials.  Even Lionel had to keep it a secret from his wife (Ehle).

Writer David Seidler had wanted to tell this story for a long time.  He originally envisioned it as a play but that changed when Geoffrey Rush first laid his eyes on the script.  Left on his doorstep in a brown paper envelope, Rush read the script and immediately spoke to his agent in Hollywood.  He suggested that the film would make a better movie than a play.  Judging from the fantastic early reviews which have been received for The King’s Speech, I guess he was right.

Seidler and Hooper undertook a large amount of research to help get to know these characters.  They had spoken with Lionel’s son but an amazing stroke of luck occurred just 9 weeks prior to shooting.  They located Lionel’s grandson living in London who had a diary that Lionel had written while treating the King.  It offered incredible insight and the script went through a quick re-write.  A few of the jokes which were actually shared by the real King and the real Lionel made their way into the final film.   They give the movie a nice balance of comedy and drama.

The power of The King’s Speech comes from its performances.  Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter have been perfectly cast.  All three appear on track for an Academy Award nomination with Firth a strong frontrunner in the best actor category.  You’ll develop a great deal of sympathy for his complex character and be hoping that he finds a way of overcoming his frustration and insecurity.

One of the most highly regarded prizes in cinema is the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival.  Hundreds of films are screened each year with the audience (as opposed to critics or a jury) picking the best film.  Winners over the past decade have included Precious, Slumdog Millionaire, Hotel Rwanda, Whale Rider and AmelieThe King’s Speech took the honours in 2010 and so if my glowing review isn’t enough to get you to the cinema, may you instead be guided by the wider public.

You can read my interview with director Tom Hooper by clicking here