Leah Rozen Review: ‘The King’s Speech’

 Anglophenia is excited to welcome renowned movie critic Leah Rozen to cover our weekly film beat. Rozen was the movie critic at People magazine for 13 years, until she decided that seeing six to eight movies weekly was cruel and unusual punishment. She now reviews one movie a week for TheWrap.com and writes for the New York Times and other publications. Here is her first Anglophenia movie review, for the Colin Firth film ‘The King’s Speech.’

 On Sept. 3, 1939, when England entered World War II after Germany invaded Poland, King George VI stepped in front of a microphone and delivered an inspirational live radio address.

After years of struggling with a severe stutter, the King had — when his nation needed him most — at last found his voice.

The King’s Speech movingly tells the story of how the King (played by Colin Firth), known to family and friends as Bertie, conquered his disability so that he could speak out against the Nazi and Fascist threats imperiling the world.

This is no stuffy costume drama. As deftly directed by Tom Hooper (The Damned United and HBO’s John Adams), the movie tells a story that is both personal and political.

Bertie — father of the current Queen Elizabeth — never expected to be king. That was the role destined for his feckless older brother, Edward (Guy Pearce). But when Edward abdicated the throne in 1936, less than a year into his reign, so that he could wed two-time American divorcée Wallis Simpson, Bertie was crowned.

 He had spent years, and seen numerous experts, in fruitless pursuit of a cure for his stuttering. It was only when his supportive wife (Helena Bonham Carter) hooked him up with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an eccentric, Australian-born speech therapist, that Bertie made progress.

The relationship between these two men is at the heart of the film. Logue’s methods are unconventional. He probes his patient to find the psychological impediments that might be hindering his speech, and encourages Bertie to swear lustily (hence, the film’s undeserved R rating) and sing, activities he can accomplish without stuttering.

 As Bertie is being helped by Logue, it becomes increasingly evident that Edward is not up to the job of being king and, after he resigns, that the threat from a war-mongering Germany can neither be ignored nor appeased. These factors make it imperative that Bertie be able to speak his mind and forcefully so, not just in private but also to the nation.

Firth is sensational as Bertie, capturing the warmth, responsibility, complexity, and determination of the man. His performance makes it clear that being born royal doesn’t necessarily make one any less human.

Rush is his match, delivering a full-throttle turn that perfectly balances his character’s comic and caring qualities. And as Bertie’s loyal spouse, Bonham Carter scores as a warm helpmate with a sly twinkle in her eye.

I can say without, ahem, hesitation that The King’s Speech is a royal treat.

LISTEN: The real King George VI addresses the British people before WWII (BBC)
WATCH: The King’s Speech trailer (YouTube)

by Leah Rozen

Kevin Wicks

Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.

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