The two men work together in fractious partnership.

The King's Speech

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

            The King's Speech is dazzling in its understatement. Shot through with class distinctions, family politics, and world history, it remains, at its core, the story of two men. Director Tom Hooper, Colin Firth, and Geoffrey Rush do everything right and do it so especially well that we are greatly moved by what we see. The reality intensifies the impact.
            Even the structure of the film is inspired. Opening with a speech by The Duke of York (Colin Firth) at the closing session of the 1934 Empire Exhibition, the future King's speaking impairment is painfully clear. Terrified, he speaks through the new invention of live radio to the vast listening public that was then part of the British Empire. He leaves the microphone in abject humiliation, fully understanding the effect of his long pauses and stammered consonants. The movie ends five years later before another microphone with his valiant speaking effort as he declared war on Germany.
            What happens in between those speeches is the story of George VI, the reluctant King, and his speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush). In despair after the failure of all experts who try to help her husband, the King's wife (Helena Bonham Carter) resorts to an ad that leads her to the basement office of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a failed actor with no credentials whatsoever in the field of speech. Logue is an Australian with only a modicum of respect for the Empire, and we learn immediately that his relationship with this couple will be as fraught with intricate subtleties as it is filled with compassion and wit.
            While the two men work together in fractious partnership, director Hooper ties the politics of the Royal Family to the grim slide toward World War II. Much of this is shown through George's older brother King Edward who is taken with and taken over by Baltimore divorcee Wallis Simpson. When King Edward abdicates for Mrs. Simpson, George ascends as England and Germany go to war.
            Colin Firth is transcendent as the humble man who can't believe he's up to the job - "I'm a Naval officer. It is all I know." He shows us beautifully the crippling weight of the stammer that shadows the man he must become to run the Empire. Jennifer Ehle, as Lionel Logue's wife, is marvelous as she realizes her husband's client is the King himself. Helena Bonham Carter is just right as the woman who loves her man and insists on helping him defeat his handicap. Geoffrey Rush's Lionel Logue, with equal measures of arrogance and humility, wants only to help the man who stands before him, barely able to get through a sentence. Firth and Rush are so good that we understand completely the authentic and enduring friendship they are building. We leave the theater in a wave of appreciation both for the actors who have given us this gift and for the King and the commoner who lived this story.
 

 


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