Public speech probably makes the list for top 10 worst fears of practically everybody. For people with speech impediments, that fear grows teeth. For a king with a speech impediment, that fear turns into a monstrous wall. In the King’s Speech, Director Tom Hooper weaves the story of Bertie/King George VI and his problem of dealing with his stammer. A dialogue-driven period piece about a stuttering King-to-be seems like a film tailor-made for the elite elderly, but the team involved makes it an enjoyable, inspiring ride.
Coated in muted colors, the tint of the film matches the low-self esteem of Bertie, as well as the way he is silenced by his stammer and resides in the shadows of his family. Hooper captures the perspective of Bertie rather well, closing tight on his quivering lips or taking the camera low for an ants-eye view of the colossal audience. Everything about the direction works well, and enhances the mood of the film.
Colin Firth playing Bertie/George VI is achingly genuine, as we constantly see him bursting with frustration because of his verbal shackles. Despite his harrowing speech impediment, his warm-heart beams, especially when he interacts with Lionel Logue, played amazingly by Geoffrey Rush. We feel for Bertie, as he is trapped by his lack of voice and we feel his determination as he is climbing out of a dark hole. We even see the envy in his eyes when he watches footage of Hitler rousing up a crowd through his oratory talent. Firth gives a thoroughly magnificent performance, and it’s equally matched by Rush’s performance as Lionel Logue. Logue is an eccentric, brash and rather clever speech therapist. He becomes a trigger for Bertie’s confidence, and guides him as a friend and a teacher. The chemistry of both is the heart of the film. Helena Bonham Carter also gives a touching performance as Queen Elizabeth, feeling Bertie’s pain and standing by him to see thing through it.
This is a character driven piece, and not once does the film get swept up in the major historical moments; rather, it keeps the story intimate to Bertie’s problem and realistic triumph over it. The film is about a man trying to be the best version of himself that he can possibly be, and the start of that is getting over his speech impediment. If he can successfully deliver a speech to his people, he can lead them through the horrors of WWII.
Despite all the praise this film has received, it does not leave a lasting impression. There’s nothing special or memorable enough about the film that will preserve it as a true classic.
What helps the film may also hinder it: sometimes it is too intimate. For example, the speech King George VI finally gives is not very engaging because the film audience is not concentrating on the words being said, only how they’re being said.
For those who do not enjoy dialogue driven films, this film is probably not for you.