At the Movies: The King’s Speech

The husband and I first tried to see this last weekend and discovered that the theatre where it was playing was sold out for all of the showings we could get to. (We ended up with a second viewing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows instead, which is much better if you’re not feeling deathly ill while watching it.) We decided we’d try again this week and bought tickets on Saturday for a Sunday showing.

Now, I do live in Los Angeles, and there’s definitely an audience for “art house” films, especially ones with as much early Oscar buzz as The King’s Speech is enjoying, but there does seem something more than that. This is a film that is touching, funny, inspirational, horrifying, and very, very painful all at once. Albert, Duke of York, was a stutterer from an early age, a problem which wasn’t necessarily a liability at first. (He was considered a fine naval officer and apparent had no problem making himself understood when giving orders — or swearing.) Two things, however, conspired against him. First was the advent of radio, which meant members of the royal family were expected to make speeches which were heard throughout the nation. The second was Wallis Simpson and his older brother’s determination to marry her even if it meant abdicating the throne.

Colin Firth plays Bertie, who’s saddled with responsibilities he never expected to have and does not want, but takes on because he believes it is the right thing to do. It is this that drives him to seek the help of Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush, an Australian whose methods of treating “speech defects” are somewhat controversial. The film focuses on the work to help Bertie present himself respectably in public and the unconventional friendship that grew up between the two men.

This is a story that very much needed to be told in film rather than book form because we can see the fear and pain on Bertie’s face as he waits to make that first radio broadcast and hear how difficult it is for him to get his words out. We can also see the subtlety with which Logue tries to draw his patient out, build the trust that will help with the treatment. And when, on the eve of the coronation, Bertie finally accepts the idea that he, too, has a voice and a right to be heard, it is a triumph.

I’m giving this somewhat short shrift in the description, but it is a brilliant film, one I urge you to seek out. The cast is first rate, the script tight, on point and never drifting over into too much sentimentality. Rated R for language — cursing is one of the few things Bertie can manage without a stutter and there is quite a flow that caused tremendous laughter in the audience — the film is now in wide distirbution, and hopefully playing near you.