I don’t often do movie reviews. Strike that. I NEVER do movie reviews. But a film we saw last week, “The King’s Speech” moved me to write something. I am not going to rate the film with cutesy icons. By way of recommendation, I will say that it is a movie we will buy when it comes out on DVD, if only to catch up on the lines and the scenery we missed the first time around. That may become my review standard - “Would I have this film in my house?”
For those of you just coming out of winter hibernation, the movie chronicles the struggles of King George VI to overcome a debilitating stutter. It is giving nothing away to say that the first scene of the movie has Colin Firth as “Bertie” the second in line, or what the Brits call the “spare heir”, to the British throne, approaching a radio broadcast with the same trepidation reserved for dead men walking. When he finally gets to the speech, the audience knows what he knows – that it will be an unmitigated disaster. And so it is.
Firth’s wife, wonderfully played by Helena Bonham Carter, tries mightily to find her husband help. In past performances, Carter has always played slightly crazy women – as the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, as Sweeney Todd’s love interest and the wonderfully evil Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter movies (where she will get what's coming to her in the last film- but I digress). Carter’s very properly played British royal wife finally becomes so desperate that she visits the shabby office of Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush, as “Mrs. Johnson”. After meeting the unconventional speech therapist, she persuades her husband to meet with him at least once. From there, the movie becomes a story of friendship, hard work and sacrifice.
Bertie not only struggles with his speech, but with his father, King George V, an authoritarian whose advice to overcome the affliction amounts to “just do it, man” and a brother, David, the heir to the throne, a dilettante whose only care is for his lover, divorced American Wallis Simpson. To make matters worse, war is coming. Herr Hitler is rallying his country into long lines of goose stepping soldiers with the strength of his oratory.
Bertie and Lionel spar over simple issues of what to call each other and where to meet. Bertie may have a speech defect, but he is able to wound the therapist with his sharp reminders of their different stations in life. Watching the two men become friends despite their differences is at the heart of this movie and Firth and Rush make us believe they are who they are pretending to be.
The English people will need a rallying voice to unite them in the struggle to come. David wants only his American born married mistress. Bertie wants to retreat into his role as a naval officer and never speak in public again. One of them will get their wish. The other will become a great king.
The movie is set in an era when physical limitations were considered shameful – a weakness in character or a bar to serving the public well. It was the time that Franklin Roosevelt’s braces were a state secret. Lionel is the first to recognize and treat the psychological causes of Bertie’s speech – the bullying, humiliation and abuse that the child suffered are demons the man must exorcise before he can deal with getting his tongue to spit out dipthongs.
“The King’s Speech” reminded me that we all have demons. Whether kings or paupers, no one gets to adulthood unscathed.
It also reminded me that movies don’t need nudity, car chases and explosions to be riveting. There is R rating lauguage –hilarious to adults, but not so good as teaching words for the little ones. I wouldn’t want my grandson reciting the litany of words Bertie is able to correctly pronounce. When watching on the DVD, cover the tot’s ears or send him off on an errand during the spicy spots and it’s G the rest of the way.
A movie worth watching and a movie worth buying. What a rare event.