- Written by David Seidler
- Directed by Tom Hooper
Three years ago, Helen Mirren showed us the life of England’s long-running Monarch in The Queen. But in The King’s Speech, writer David Seidler and director Tom Hooper introduce us to her far more interesting father. George VI (the Duke of York through much of the film, and Bertie to his family) never wanted to be king. And since he had an older brother, he thought he never would have to assume that role. But his brother abdicated the throne to marry an American divorcee, and Bertie was stuck with the job.
Almost entirely lacking in self-confidence and speaking with a very bad stammer, Bertie (Colin Firth) hardly seems cut out for a job that requires public speaking. He can barely manage being Duke of York. All of the proper and respectable speech doctors have failed, so Bertie’s wife (Helena Bonham Carter), seeks out the far less acceptable Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush at his most impish).
The movie centers on Logue’s relationship to the Duke and eventual King. This is not an easy relationship. Bertie has had hardly any contact with commoners, and now an Australian immigrant is asking him personal questions and insisting they be on a first-name basis. For a man raised to believe in the importance of formal ceremonies meant to elevate his family above everyone else, Logue’s disregard for tradition and class structure is shocking and confusing.
And the audience, at least the one I saw it with, found them hilarious. While not quite a comedy, The King’s Speech manages to deliver far more laughs than the average drama. In fact, it delivers considerably more than some big-budget comedies. This is no dry history lesson, but a very funny character study of two men from very different backgrounds, and with very different takes on life, set against an England moving against its will into another world war.
Make no mistake: This is as much a genre picture as any superhero adventure or romantic comedy. The genre here is Oscar bait–movies designed to win Academy Awards. But it’s an exceptionally entertaining example of the genre. There’s nothing original about how the story is told, and nothing unpredictable about how the characters develop. But it digs considerably deeper into the reality of life as a modern monarch (if such a life is in any way real), than did the much-praised The Queen.
The British royals are absurdly wealthy and have a ridiculous sense of entitlement, but they also sacrifice a lot for a life they don’t chose. The King’s Speech captures the conflicts and absurdities of that way of life with grace, humor, and a fine rebellious streak.
The King’s Speech had its Bay Area premiere at the 2010 Mill Valley Film Festival. I saw it at a press screening before the festival.