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With: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Geoffrey Rush, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce, Claire Bloom, Eve Best, Timothy Spall, Anthony Andrews
Written by: David Seidler
Directed by: Tom Hooper
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Running Time: 118
Date: 09/06/2010

The King's Speech (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Stammer and Pickle

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Get out your wallets and put your money down now: Colin Firth will win the Best Actor Oscar next spring. He was nominated last year for A Single Man, and he's fresh in the voters' heads. In this new film, he's playing a real-life figure, with a physical defect; plus, he gets to wear some fancy, gorgeous costumes, and he's English. No actor in the history of movies has ever lost an Oscar with a combination like that.

Does he actually deserve to win? At this point, I don't see why not. It hasn't been a groundbreaking movie year, and I haven't seen any other performances this year that really blew me away. James Franco could get a nomination for his one-man show in 127 Hours, but to my eyes, his work is no better or no worse than Ryan Reynolds' work in his one-man show Buried. Hell, for my money, Robert Downey Jr.'s performance in Iron Man 2 is still one of the year's best. Firth is very good and quite likeable, and he's been reliable for a long time; it'd be nice to see him win.

The situation is this: he plays King George VI, or rather, "Bertie" for most of the film. He has a speech impediment, a chronic stammer, which prevents him from comfortably speaking in public. The trouble is that it's the 1930s and radio is coming in. His father, King George V (Michael Gambon), likes to give Christmas speeches over the air, and he wishes his successor to do the same. Bertie's older brother, Edward (Guy Pearce), is the natural choice for the throne, except that Edward is having a most frowned-upon affair with a divorced woman.

Edward does take over the throne, but quickly abdicates, leaving Bertie as the next in line. Worst of all, WWII is looming, and -- more than ever -- it will be necessary for the king to speak to his people. Which brings us back to the point of this film; some months earlier, Bertie's wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) makes several appointments with speech therapists. They, of course, settle on the most unorthodox choice, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Lionel is a failed actor who won't leave his office to visit the palace. He makes the prince come to him. He only addresses the prince by his first name. He even has the audacity to emerge from the bathroom -- having freshly flushed the toilet -- when his royal guests arrive.

All this is a way of suggesting that Lionel is quirky; it's a traditional romantic comedy setup, with the quirky character and the stuffy character coming together and clashing, but fortunately, the screenplay by veteran writer David Seidler (Tucker: The Man and His Dream) goes a little deeper, burrowing neatly into the friendship and the politics, without wasting time on comic relief or any other nonsense. The script gives Firth and Rush a great deal to play with (Rush has a dandy time being a too-articulate performer of Shakespeare), and even the smaller roles contain some sparkling moments, especially for Derek Jacobi as an archbishop and Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill.

Then there's the direction by Tom Hooper, who turned in such a dynamic The Damned United last year, using stark angles and deep shadows. Here, Hooper seems to have adjusted his style to the romantic comedy, and the new film is scrubbed, shiny and without much personality. He steps out of the way of the costumes and the set design, letting Lionel's grubby office -- with its patchy wallpaper -- conflict with the palace decor. But it's a passive approach; I'm not saying this movie needed stark angles and deep shadows, but Hooper could have gone the other way and tried for fragility and delicacy. As of now, The King's Speech looks straight on like a made-for-TV movie.

Happily, the movie still works, similar to the way that the radiant Shakespeare in Love worked despite John Madden's clumsy direction. The writing and the actors alone provide a happy and satisfying emotional connection. What lasts after the movie ends is not the visuals, but the powerful way that Lionel and the king silently meet each other's eyes during the king's first big speech; with stuff like that, who needs angles?

Anchor Bay released the beautiful Blu-Ray edition of this Oscar-winner, and thankfully it contains the "R" rated version, and not the butchered PG-13 version the Weinsteins rushed into theaters to cash in on their awards success. Extras include a commentary track by director Tom Hooper, and several featurettes about the making of the film as well as the real life people.

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