Prince Albert, Duke of York (“Bertie”, as he was called by his family) was a man of privilege to be sure, but that didn’t mean he had it particularly easy. From the time he was a child, he was plagued with a debilitating speech impediment, which made him horribly self-conscious and uneasy in public situations. He was the target of his brother’s derision growing up, an unfortunate dynamic that continued into the brothers’ adult years. And then, taken completely off-guard, Bertie is thrown into the role of King of England when his brother Edward abdicates the throne in order to marry the lady from Baltimore. So now Bertie’s speech, which is soon to become ‘the King’s speech’, is more important than ever.
It is Bertie’s wife, Elizabeth, played with elegance and sensitivity by Helen Bonham Carter, who finds the speech teacher, and who supports Bertie with unwavering devotion, patience, and love as he tries to overcome his speech impediment. A remarkable and entirely unexpected friendship evolves between Bertie, played exquisitely by Colin Firth, and his eccentric speech teacher, Lionel Logue, a struggling actor whose unorthodox methods begin to demonstrate their efficacy when during their first meeting, Bertie follows Logue’s directions and speaks over music without a trace of stuttering. Meanwhile Logue, played brilliantly by Geoffrey Rush, records Bertie. And at the end of the session, Logue slips the recording into Bertie’s hands. Later in the privacy of his own study, Bertie listens to the sound of his voice without the stutter–in a heartwarming moment of timid delight.
Logue is not an easy person to deal with initially. He insists that Bertie come to his residence/studio, rather than the other way around, as would be expected. This is the case even when it is pronounced that Bertie will become King George VI. Without ever losing respect for the King, Logue reaches straight for the man who wears the crown, not the crown that adorns the man. And it is this dynamic between the two of them that sets up a unique and remarkable friendship.
Director Tom Hopper, who directed the exquisite period piece made for TV, Daniel Deronda, does an exquisite job in defining the personalities of his two dominant characters in The King’s Speech – Bertie and Logue. But what is a director without his actors? Bertie and Logue play off each other like seasoned fencing champions. Through anguish, grueling effort, and perseverance–one teaches the other methods for trying to circumvent a nasty speech impediment. And in the process, it is not only the King’s speech that undergoes a change, but the King himself.
It’s a demonstration of hard love. Logue is relentless, stopping at nothing in pursuit of his student’s progress. As their relationship evolves, we watch the goings-on with amusement sometimes, such as when George follows Logue’s instruction and hurls a stream of foul language into the air, a device Logue has taught him in the hopes of preventing the stuttering. And we watch and listen with mounting tension and baited breath as King George VI delivers his most important speech of all – his address to the British Nation, immediately after declaring war on Hitler. With the enormous pressure of the moment, will the King be able to speak without the stutter? Or not?
Firth’s performance is masterful, but that is but a word. His performance reaches a state of being that is essentially a transformation. There is no actor. There is only the man, with all the miseries and doubts and other human traits that we recognize revealed in beautifully nuanced mannerisms and depth. And Rush’s dazzling performance as the irreverent and unrelenting teacher is so genuine that you are uplifted by it–the sheer generosity of it. Spoken through the eyes, his unerring attention and devotion reach far beyond the screen and into our hearts.
An Oscar contender to be sure, The King’s Speech was nominated for Golden Globe Awards in multiple categories, including Best Actor (for which Colin Firth won the award), Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Screenplay (David Seidler, The King and I), and Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). It’s the kind of film that could easily sweep the Oscars. It’s a riveting story, with both heart and class. It’s a period piece. It’s motivational–demonstrating what hard work and persistence can achieve, and it’s an interesting look at the behind the scenes activity during a bit of contemporary history. Even if we don’t remember it, our parents or grandparents do. And it gives us that feel-good sensation that good ‘big’ movies can give us, where we want to stand up and cheer for the heroes, knock down the villains, laugh at the idiots, and hug those who meet obstacles head-on and deserve to win-whether they do or not.
When she’s not writing, you’ll find Francine swimming, hiking, practicing yoga, and an assortment of other activities to keep her out of trouble–most recently creating an app, vinOrganica California, a guide to wineries in California that use organic grapes. It’s available on the iTunes store, and you can learn more about it at www.vinorganica.com. The subject of stuttering was of particular interest to Francine, as she knew that her father had stuttered as a child and through diligence and determination, he overcame it.