by Ryan Hill
It’s a formula as old as film, if not storytelling itself. Someone tries to overcome the odds or a handicap to achieve greatness. But rarely has this type of film been seen in a historical setting, and even rarer still has it been about royalty. “The King’s Speech” is just that kind of film.
Colin Firth stars as Prince Albert (who would later become King George VI), known by his family as Bertie, a man afflicted with a terrible stutter. Having a stutter can be difficult for anyone, but for Bertie, it’s a constant struggle with public appearances and speeches as a member of the British Royal Family. His saving grace is that he is the younger brother of Prince Edward, who is first in line to the throne after his father, King George V, dies.
Desperate to find a cure for her husband, Bertie’s wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), enlists the help of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an unorthodox speech therapist, to help Bertie with his stutter. Bertie is reluctant at first but soon finds that Logue’s techniques work, and while his stutter isn’t cured, it at least becomes somewhat manageable.
Mostly, Bertie is just relieved that Edward, now King Edward VIII, has taken the throne after their father’s passing, even though his brother is embroiled in a scandalous affair with a twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson, and seems more interested in throwing parties than ruling an empire.
When told that he can’t marry Simpson and still be king, Edward abdicates the throne, leaving the British Empire in the hands of Bertie. The task of ruling an empire is daunting enough for Bertie with Hitler’s rising power and a looming war, but it’s almost unbearable as he has to be the voice that leads the nation.
In the capable hands of Firth, Bertie is imbued with the perfect mix of sincerity, insecurity and dignity, portraying him as a smart, brave man who wants nothing more than to be heard and respected, even though the very idea of that terrifies him. It’s a performance that may net him that Best Actor Academy Award he lost out on last year with “A Single Man.”
“The King’s Speech” is perfect awards-season fodder. With its unique take on an old story, period setting and terrific performances, the film practically screams Oscar nominations. Unlike most films that feel stuffy because they’re only made to win awards, “The King’s Speech” bucks that trend by having so much heart that it’s as uplifting a film as it is awards-worthy.