Director: Tom Hooper
The obvious piece of British Oscar bait for the 2011 race, The King’s Speech possesses so many of the traits that audiences (American audiences in particular) love to see in their awards contenders. Not only does it involve somebody trying to overcome an affliction (in this case, a stammer), but it’s based on a true story involving a member of royalty (Colin Firth’s King George VII) and his relationship with a commoner (his speech coach Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush). Look at those credentials; it’s crying out to be honoured, and thus it was!
George VII (known to those close to him as Bertie) led Britain through the Second World War, a time when charismatic leaders were not only desirable, but necessary to bolster morale. Churchill may get most of the kudos but Bertie’s struggle to overcome a crippling stammer before becoming king is indicative of British wartime pluck. As Tom Hooper’s film details, Bertie may not have got the help he needed had he not ascended to the throne following the scandal surrounding his brother Edward (Guy Pearce) and Mrs. Simpson. Whilst stories of British royalty have got the Academy’s seal of approval in the past, the events precipitating Bertie becoming George VII are captured in a much more cinematic and interesting way than the similarly-themed The Queen or Mrs. Brown. Hooper (The Damned United) keeps events pacy and zipping along, whilst David Seidler’s script zings with an appropriately dry wit and clever one-liners (When asked if he knows any jokes, Bertie laments, “T-T-Timing isn’t exactly my strong suit”).
The awards Colin Firth earned for his performance are well-deserved. It’s one thing to get a stammer right, but it takes great restraint not to over-exploit it. Firth nails the anger, fear and moral rectitude of Bertie in a performance to match his acclaimed turn in A Single Man. Firth is matched scene for scene by Rush, who excels in a role that utilizes both his brilliant comedic timing and his natural warmth. Helena Bonham Carter makes the most of what could have been a thankless role as Queen Elizabeth, Bertie’s wife, and the rest of the cast do well (even if Pearce’s accent comes across as overly plummy and Timothy Spall doesn’t really resemble Churchill).
As mannered and well-worn a storyline as it may be, The King’s Speech is still a rousing piece of film. By the end, you’ll desperately want poor old Bertie to succeed. It may have all the stuffy trappings of most award-baiting period pieces, but there’s a pulsing heart behind it all, encapsulated in Firth and Rush and delivered with sprightly verve. The King’s Speech deserves the royal seal of approval.