Oscar Movie Review: The King’s Speech

by brandt

Some people really get into the British lifestyle and way of thinking.  I knew a couple of people who loved watching BBC America and the comedy shows from overseas.  I knew people who went on university-sponsored European tours, where they got to visit the birthplaces of famous authors like Dickens and Jane Austen.  There are those that love British royalty,  the concept of knights and ladies, and the glamor that goes along with it.

I’m not really one of those people.  I mean, I’m interested in the lifestyle, and I’m fascinated by the accent, but it’s never been a primal urge to get into the history and culture of England.

So when Ashley told me she wanted to watch “The King’s Speech,” I was a bit hesitant.  Yes, the movie had been nominated for a ton of things, and the acclaim was almost unanimous in its praise, but it’s all about KINGS and PRINCES and PRINCESSES.

Boy was I wrong.

Imagine being a member of a royal family, where your referred to as “His Royal Highness,” or “His Majesty,” and people hang on literally every word that comes out of your mouth.  But you can’t say the words.  And while nobody will ever renounce you in public, everyone has that awkward frown-smile “Let’s humor him so he can just get through this” look on their face.

We pick up the story of “The Kings Speech” as Albert Fredrick Arthur George, or, as he is come to know in the movie, the Duke of York (in public) and his family name, “Bertie,” in private, is preparing to give a speech to the British Empire Exhibition at Wembly Stadium.  The entire breadth of the British Empire would be listening either in person or via radio as the Duke of York was giving the closing speech.  And this is where Colin Firth, as Albert, really shines.  It’s one thing to fake having a stutter.  It’s another thing to make it a reality.  The amazing part about actors is when they transform into a role, and everything subtle that Firth did makes you believe that he has this same speech impediment that Albert has.

After struggling through the speech (and subsequently being embarrassed/humiliated by it), Albert embarks on a trek to correct his speech.  Originally, the only thing that matters to him is being able to give a speech correctly, instead of correcting the underlying problem at hand.  After visiting many different doctors, his wife, played by Helena Bonham Carter (of Harry Potter fame), finds Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist, who is willing to treat Albert, though his methods might be…unorthodox.

We see Albert struggle, though both his speech therapy, the occasional speeches he’s called on to give to various people, and the pressures put on him by his father, who really doesn’t understand what the issue is.  After finishing up a Christmas Radio address, Albert’s father, George V (Michael Gambon of Harry Potter) yells exasperatedly at him “Come on boy, spit it out!”  If only it were that easy.

After George V passes away, Bertie’s elder brother, Edward, becomes the new King of England.  But Edward fancies Ms. Wallis Simpson, an American woman who has been divorced twice already.  Based on the long-standing traditions and rules of the monarchy, Edward abdicates the throne…leaving Bertie as the new King of England, King George VI.

It’s fascinating to see the story play out on many different levels, and I could watch this movie 4 more times focusing on one theme each time, and still enjoy it.  The period elements are fantastic, from the costumes to the home decor to the customs and technology of the day.  The acting is superb, with Firth showing us a vulnerability that is often feigned, but rarely effectively used.  And finally, while the tension for the period is palpable (the threat of war overhead, Hitler taking over Europe, and King George having to make the decision to go to war), the climax of the move comes when King George has to give a speech, over BBC radio airwaves, to the people under British jurisdiction (including Canada, India, and others), that they were going to war, and that they could trust in their king.

The cinematography of the movie is something to pay attention to, especially how it conveys the feelings.  The final speech is given in a very small and cramped room, and its uncomfortable in the fact that it feels like it should be bigger for the players involved.  The long shots down hallways, the angles of the shots all add to the overall feeling of the movie.

But in the end, it’s not about the speech (while good) at all.  It’s not about the threat of war, or the fact that King George become a beloved figure in England.  In my mind, those were all appendages to the main theme of the movie – overcoming.  The monarchy in England adds intrigue and mystery (especially to Americans), but the theme of man overcoming his limitations, and rising to meet and exceed his expectations is something inspiring to see.  And the director, Tom Hooper, deserves all the praise in the world for his handling of  the final quarter of the movie, which, under less-talented hands, would have been fraught with clichés.  Instead of fluffy feel-goodness, you get good, moving emotion, something that can be portrayed by extraordinary actors and superb directing.

RATED: R, for some language, though I totally disagree.  It’s all within context, and I would be fine with a PG-13 rating for this film.  There are about 11 uses of the “f-word,” and a few other 4-letter words, all used within a speech therapy context.  I agree with  Roger Ebert who said, “The R rating refers to Logue’s use of vulgarity. It is utterly inexplicable. This is an excellent film for teenagers.”


IMDB – 8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes – 95%
Metacritics – 88/100
Brandt’s Score – 93/100


Best Picture
Best Film Editing – Tariq Anwar
Best Art Direction – Eve Stewart/Judy Farr
Best Costume Design – Jenny Beavan
Best Sound Mixing – Paul Hamblin/Martin Jensen/John Midgley
Best Actor – Colin Firth
Best Director – Tom Hooper
Best Supporting Actor – Geoffrey Rush
Best Supporting Actress – Helena Bonham Carter
Best Original Screenplay – David Seidler
Best Original Score – Alexandre Desplat
Best Cinematography – Danny Cohen

Images via The Independent (UK) and the International Business Times.


4 Comments to “Oscar Movie Review: The King’s Speech”

  1. Sold – I’m seeing it tonight.

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