By Michael Potts
As the Academy Awards approach on Feb. 27, many movies are put in the spotlight because of their ability to “wow” audiences. One movie in particular, The King’s Speech, has managed to gain the most buzz around campus and seemingly dominate all predictions for Best Picture of the Year.
To the average college student, British period films focusing on the private lives of royalty aren’t exactly the focus of relative interest. The King’s Speech lacks nothing in its portrayal of these seemingly mundane subjects, presenting them in such a way that the viewer cannot help but feel a part of them.
Colin Firth (Mamma Mia!) plays King George VI, although this isn’t his title from the beginning. George is originally addressed as Prince Albert, known to others as “Berty.” He is second-in-line to the throne when his father dies, but has the position thrust upon him when his brother, played by Guy Pearce (The Road), runs away with an American woman, abdicating the throne.
That alone would have even the most stoic prince a bit unnerved, but the problem is only exacerbated by Berty’s most noticeable characteristic: a stammer. Berty is stricken by a terrible speech impediment that causes him, at times, to choke on words, simply unable to force them out. This is made worse by the recent growth of mass media and the radio. As King, Albert must speak for the people. The only problem is, he can’t speak.
After seeing a multitude of speech therapists, his wife, the eventual Queen Elizabeth, played by Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland) seeks out Lionel Logue, who uses unorthodox and questionable methods to rid stammer-sufferers of their condition. Logue, played brilliantly by Geoffrey Rush (The Warrior’s Way), is a former actor, still striving to attain a role in theater, and agrees to meet with the King only if it can be done on his terms. This means in his office and as equals.
Albert is quickly turned off by this commoner’s disregard for social standings, and so begins the ebb and flow of his work with Logue, a disappointing series of events that borders on predictable. This proves to be the film’s only (forgive me) stammer, as the quality of acting easily makes up for the repetition of events common to any film exploring themes of personal growth through uncomfortable circumstances.
Carter is fantastic in what seems like her first non-gothic role in years, finally escaping her Sweeney Todd/Harry Potter tangle of hair and darkness, while Rush is refreshing and at times happy-go-lucky. He uses his sly personality to lead Albert through a series of emotions in an attempt to create what the King has always lacked: confidence.
As wonderful as the supporting cast is, the real pleasure comes from watching Firth’s performance. Scenes in which he appears capture the audience, and those without him leave the viewer anticipating his return. One would swear that Firth himself had a stammer, his performance is so convincing. He is a joy to watch.
The King’s Speech is in ways the perfect buddy movie, pitting the stoic, stuck-up aristocrat against the underdog commoner with the heart of gold, and the formula works effortlessly. The two play off each other brilliantly and they are simply fun to watch. The King’s Speech may be a British period piece, but it would be a real shame if, because of a lack of explosions, car chases and super-robots, this movie failed to get the recognition it deserves. Do yourself a favor and see The King’s Speech and remember what cinema is supposed to be.