The King’s Speech is gorgeous, poignant, funny, inspiring. It’s not just the best film of 2010, it’s a perfect film. Specifically, a perfect film for adults because it’s about grown-ups who do their duty, about the curious, private ways that individual men and women become courageous.
Guided by a flawless script by David Seidl, director Tom Hooper (John Adams) gives The King’s Speech an elegant, confident demeanor that elevates its very personal story to mythic greatness. It’s a visual feast. Cinematographer Danny Cohen (Pirate Radio) creates a somber Depression Era palette that is full of vibrant surprises as if everyone in England were demanding dabs of color to cheer them up in sad times. The costumes are so refined and delicate they could start a 1930s fashion revival. The actors are all incredible. Geoffrey Rush wavers delightfully between a commoner’s arrogance and a teacher’s compassion. Helena Bonham Carter is so wondrously regal you can see in her the beloved Queen Mum who will emerge decades later. In every gesture, Colin Firth makes his character so real that King George VI seems to breathe from the screen.
It’s the mid-1930s. Elderly King George V (Michael Gambon) has ruled the British Empire for over 20 years. His eldest son Edward (Guy Pearce) is a playboy more interested in holding the wives of other men than the reins of power. Second son, Albert, called “Bertie” (Colin Firth), is happily married to sweet Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (Helena Bonham Carter).They have two little girls “Lilibet” (the future Elizabeth II) and Margaret (who grew up to be as controversial as her uncle.)
Raised in the shadow of his older brother, Bertie never had a desire to be king. That’s a good thing, his friends and family admit, because Bertie is shy and insecure and he has a horrendous stutter.Any attempt at public speaking, such as the excruciating first scene in the film, is a nightmare. Bertie has endured every speech therapist in the country, and nothing has ever worked. He resigns himself to staying voiceless in public. But Lady Elizabeth is determined to help her husband be the man she knows he can be…
In a sparsely furnished loft in London, Australian actor Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) raises his family—hiding them in the back rooms when speech therapy patients visit in the front. Without credentials, Lionel has devised unorthodox methods that have miraculously transformed many clients. Lady Elizabeth drags the reluctant prince to see him.
Lionel insists that he and Bertie work as equals, on a first-name basis. In hilarious scenes, Lionel proves to Bertie that he doesn’t stutter when he thinks, or sings or curses—thus his stutter is situational and can be helped. Believing that stuttering is caused by childhood trauma, Lionel prods Bertie for his family history. As their relationship continues, growing into friendship, Lionel learns to relax his rigid rules and Bertie realizes he must abandon his royal isolation to become a real person.
King George V dies and less than a year later his successor, his son King Edward VII, abdicates to marry divorced American, Wallis Simpson. To his horror, at age 41, Bertie becomes the new king of England, King George VI. As Bertie rehearses his coronation lines with Lionel, the two men get into one of their fervid arguments.
“L-listen to me… listen to me!” Bertie stammers.
“Why should I waste my time listening to you?” Lionel taunts him.
“Because I have a voice!” the king screams.
“Yes,” Lionel says, a broad smile creasing his face and sending a lump into the throats of everyone in the audience, “You do.”.
Some time later, Bertie must deliver the most important speech of his life. Slowly, pausing before difficult words, breathing from his diaphragm, King George VI talks into a radio microphone. The Nazi regime, he tells his subjects all over the world, headed by one of history’s great orators, can no longer be appeased. War is declared. The king’s voice becomes the voice of courage for an empire.