I sometimes recoil when people start spreading Oscar buzz about a movie I haven’t seen—or even had a chance to see—yet, but I’m willing to forgive this year’s campaign for The King’s Speech because it’s such a terrific movie. There are times when I look around me and get the feeling that civilization, as I know it, is coming to an end. Then a film like this arrives on the scene and restores my faith, not only in movies but in humankind itself.
Even the story behind this movie says something about the sensibilities of its creators. Veteran screenwriter David Seidler stumbled onto the little-known saga of speech therapist Lionel Logue, who worked with King George VI to deal with his debilitating stammer, many years ago. Being British, he wrote to the monarch’s widow, the Queen Mother, to ask if she would mind if he dramatized the material. She replied that since the memories of these events were so personal, and—
—painful, to her she hoped he would wait until she died. And he did. (You may recall that the Queen Mum lived to be 101.)
It was worth the wait. Colin Firth may not bear a physical resemblance to the King, but he embodies all the qualities that make the character so admirable and empathetic. Most of all, he is endearingly human.
Geoffrey Rush gives one of the best performances of his career as the eccentric Australian, a failed actor who found his niche far from home, creating his own approach to speech therapy. The fact that he isn’t intimidated by the arrival of royalty on his doorstep is one of the keys to this story, and Seidler’s witty treatment of the relationship between king and commoner is elevated to the level of high comedy by Firth and Rush. These superb actors seem to relish every moment they share onscreen.
They are aided and abetted by Helena Bonham Carter, who leaves larger-than-life characters behind for the moment to play the kind, nurturing and eminently practical Queen Elizabeth. The supporting cast is fleshed out by Guy Pearce as the abdicating Edward VIII, Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop, Michael Gambon as the imposing King George V, Claire Bloom as his wife, Anthony Andrews as Stanley Baldwin, and an unexpected but delightful Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill.
Director Tom Hooper, a veteran of British television films who also piloted the John Adams miniseries, sets just the right tone for this lively tale. He knows how to showcase his actors at their very best, and his collaborators have brought the period of the 1930s to life with skill and an admirable eye for detail.
Moviegoers who think of period pieces—even relatively recent ones—as being stuffy or remote ought to park their prejudices and see this exceptional film. It is one of the highlights of the year.