- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Weinstein Co.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
f you asked the average moviegoer if they were interested in watching a British period piece about an English prince with a bad temper and an even worse stammer, you’d probably find it difficult to fill a lot of theaters. That might not bode well for the box office potential of “The King’s Speech,” but it doesn’t change the fact that Tom Hooper has managed to take a predictable story fit for a TV movie and turn it into one of the year’s best films and a major contender at the Oscars. Not too surprising considering the director’s previous work (including the HBO miniseries “John Adams” and the underrated sports drama, “The Damned United”), but without such great performances from his cast, that might not have been the case.
Though the film takes place predominantly in the 1930s, the story begins in 1925 where Prince Albert, the Duke of York (Colin Firth), is publicly embarrassed after his speech impediment prevents him from delivering the closing speech at the British Empire Exhibition. Having exhausted every option to cure his stammer, his loyal wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) is recommended to Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian speech therapist who guarantees that he can help Albert with his problem. Hesitant to work with someone who boldly refers to him by his family nickname, Bertie, upon their first meeting, he eventually agrees to Lionel’s demanding treatment and begins to see results. But when his father (Michael Gambon) falls ill and dies, and his older brother David (Guy Pearce) abdicates the crown in order to marry the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson, Albert is thrust into the role of king as the threat of war looms.
It’s exactly the kind of story that could have fallen prey to syrupy sentimentalism, but Hooper does well to lighten the mood with shades of humor – particularly in regards to the lifelong friendship that was formed between Bertie and Lionel. Although it’s the latter who’s mostly responsible for the more lighthearted moments, Colin Firth gives Bertie just enough of a sense of humor that he doesn’t come across like a stuffy, royal prick. He’s absolutely perfect in the role, commanding the screen even when he’s stumbling over his words, yet never milking the character’s imperfections like a lot of other actors would. Geoffrey Rush is equally as impressive as the Aussie therapist, and though you don't really need to know much about Lionel to like him, the brief glimpses that we do get into his home life only makes him an even more well-rounded character.
Hooper may not be a particularly stylish filmmaker, but he consistently gets great performances from his actors, and that doesn’t happen by accident. “The King’s Speech” is no different, and while Firth and Rush will likely receive a majority of the acclaim come awards time, Helena Bonham Carter is wonderfully understated as the future Queen Mum, Michael Gambon steals the few scenes that he’s in as the beloved King George V, and Guy Pearce delivers some of his best work as the successor who’d rather be throwing parties than leading a nation. Without such top-notch acting, it’s hard to imagine the film being quite as compelling, but as it stands, "The King's Speech" is one of the best movies you'll see all year, even if you didn't really think you wanted to.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Anchor Bay hasn’t exactly gone all-out for the Blu-ray release of this year's Best Picture Academy Award winner, but there’s still enough here to satisfy fans, led by a great commentary track with director Tom Hooper. Also included is the making-of featurette, “An Inspirational Story of an Unlikely Friendship,” a 22-minute Q&A with Hooper and cast (although sadly, Geoffrey Rush is not in attendance), a short interview with Lionel Logue’s grandson, Mark, and audio from two speeches by the real King George IV.