|The Guardian (Oct
21, 2010, by Peter Bradshaw - 4 out of 5 stars
If this is to be the UK Film Council's swan song it's gone out on a high note, or rather a regal flourish of trumpets. Tom Hooper's richly enjoyable and handsomely produced movie about George VI's struggle to cure his stammer is a massively confident crowd-pleaser. What looks at first like an conventional Brit period drama about royals is actually a witty and elegant new perspective on the abdication crisis and on the dysfunctional quiver at the heart of the Windsors and of prewar Britain. It suggests there was a time when a member of the royal household experimented with psychoanalysis—disguised as speech therapy.
Colin Firth gives a warm and sympathetic performance as Bertie, the Duke Of York, an introverted and uncomfortable stammerer, bullied by his father George V, played by Michael Gambon, and overshadowed by his charismatic playboy older brother, David, a role dispatched with some style by Guy Pearce, incidentally putting to rest the overpowering memory of Edward Fox in the part. Helena Bonham Carter is Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, his robustly supportive wife who, with her intuitive sense of when and how to dispense with her own reverence for protocol, engages a new Australian speech therapist to help her despairing husband. This is the eccentric and undeferential Leonard Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush. Logue is a man who must cure his own demons—a sense of failure over never having made it as a professional actor—and who is everywhere patronised as a colonial.
The movie is a clever anti-Pygmalion. Where Henry Higgins had to get Eliza Doolittle to smarten up and talk proper, Logue finds his pupil has gone too far in the other direction: Bertie is too constrained, too clenched, too formal and too miserable. To untie his tongue he has to relax, but also to talk about what makes him unhappy, as he has never done with anyone in his life before. David, effortlessly debonair and stubbornly set on a marriage to Mrs Simpson, is going to thrust upon Bertie's shoulders the awful burden of kingship, which, in the new era of radio, depends on public speaking as never before.
When Logue's methods get results, Bertie is delighted, and Logue becomes a sensational new royal favourite whose intimacy with the duke astonishes and infuriates the palace establishment, particularly the Archbishop of Canterbury, played by Derek Jacobi (himself a legendary screen stammerer in I, Claudius). Hooper's film subtly suggests that Bertie has defiantly learned one thing from his ne'er-do-well brother: Logue is to be his very own Mrs Simpson, a commoner who has to be tolerated by the royals. Of course, Logue gets it wrong. He presumes too much.Bertie's royal arrogance and coldness are not so easily unlearned and Logue is spurned: a morganatic bromantic lovers' tiff.
There are many incidental pleasures in David Seidler's screenplay. On being thanked for some small service, Logue asks: "What are friends for?" "I wouldn't know," snaps the duke. After watching the newsreel of the coronation, the new royal family finds itself mesmerised by the sight of Hitler at Nuremberg. "What's he saying?" asks one of his daughters. "I don't know, but he seems to be saying it rather well," says the new king thoughtfully. (As it happens, the movie skates tactfully over Queen Elizabeth's enthusiasm for appeasement, passing more or less straight from the abdication to the outbreak of war.) There is strong support from Anthony Andrews as Baldwin and a jowl-wobbling portrayal of Churchill from Timothy Spall. Fans of TV's Outnumbered will be very pleased to see nine-year-old Ramona Marquez cast as Princess Margaret, although I wonder if she shouldn't really have been Elizabeth.
A year after his acclaimed performance in Tom Ford’s A Single Man, Colin Firth delivers the finest of his career—as a stammering George VI. The King’s Speech, directed by Tom Hooper, premieres at the BFI London Film Festival tonight following rave reviews on the US festival circuit, and justifies the Oscar hype surrounding it.
A crowd-pleasing dramatic comedy, it provides a timely reminder of the charms that first-rate British acting and production values can offer. Firth is wonderful as George—known as Bertie—whose chronic stutter is an obstacle to communicating with his subjects. After a disastrous address, as Duke of York, at the 1925 British Empire Exhibition, his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, comfortably returning to period drama) enlists the services of Australian speech therapist and struggling actor Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). When Bertie assumes the throne in 1936 following the abdication of his brother Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), his dependence on Logue deepens. The film soars in depicting Bertie and Logue’s antithetical relationship. The monarch becomes indebted to the irreverent upstart (“My castle, my rules”, Logue declares during one speech session).
But while Rush is excellent, it’s really Firth’s showcase. He conveys Bertie’s inner pain expertly, to the extent that you regard this royal as anything but entitled.
David Seidler provides a strong script and there is a superb supporting cast, including Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, Michael Gambon as George V, Anthony Andrews as Stanley Baldwin, and Eve Best as Wallis Simpson.
With this movie following on from The Queen and Young Victoria, the “relatable royal” genre risks becoming tiresome, but The King’s Speech is polished and emotionally satisfying entertainment that deserves to land Firth a golden statuette come February.
11, 2010, by Mark Adams)
The moving and elegantly staged The King’s Speech will be a strong contender with awards season looming, driven by wonderful performances by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush who strike up the most unlikely of friendships as a troubled Royal and his Aussie speech-therapist. It has all of the right credentials to strike a chord with audiences fond of well-written period dramas that also happen to reveal some insight into the British royal family.
Based on the true story of George VI’s battles to overcome a stammer that hampered both his confidence and ability to communicate with the public, it is a delightfully written film—that heads into tearjerker territory quite nicely—that shows that bravery can come in many forms. Set for a November release in the US, and a January outing in home UK territory, The King’s Speech (not the most thrilling of titles it must be said) should be set to be a solid performer at the box office.
The film opens with a moment of sheer terrifying embarrassment as Prince Albert (Colin Firth)—then second in line to the throne—attempts to make a speech at the 1925 British Empire Exhibition. Not only is he trying to talk to assembled masses, but also communicate to the British Empire through the new fangled miracle of radio.
Given that the family job is talking to people, Prince Albert, with the support of wife Elizabeth (a charming Helena Bonham Carter) tries various medical options but with no luck, an eventually she seeks out alternate and unorthodox treatment offered by Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), Reluctantly Prince Albert—or Bertie as Lionel insists on calling him—submits to the course of treatment (which includes shaking his jowls, singing, jumping up and down and having his wife sit in his stomach) and gradually sees an improvement in his stammer.
Albert’s authoritarian father King George V (an impressive cameo by Michael Gambon), along with a tough and at times brutal childhood, lie at the root to Albert’s psychological problems behind his stammer, though the situation is not helped by his brother Edward (Guy Pearce, looking very much like the British royal) and his burgeoning romance with married American socialite Wallis Simpson (Eve Best).
With Edward due to inherit the throne, Albert still feels relatively safe that his public duties will be limited, but after their father’s death Edward’s decision to marry the newly divorced Wallis means that the British government have to force him to abdicate from the throne. Albert takes to the throne, adopting the title King George VI, but is faced with further—and terrifying to him—public duties. In the old days, as he says, things were easier. “All a King had to do was look respectable in uniform and not fall off your horse”.
In 1939 Albert is faced with his greatest challenge…a speech to the nation and to the Empire about the country entering into war with Nazi Germany. With Lionel at his side he manages to deliver a speech that is both passionate and considered, finally convincing both himself and his doubters about his abilities as King and as communicator.
On paper, Geoffrey Rush’s ‘Henry Higgins’-like role is perhaps the showiest, but he subtly underplays the part of a maverick Aussie man-of-the-people and works extremely well with Colin Firth’s more mannered yet troubled royal. After his award-winning role in Tom Ford’s A Single Man last year, Firth is busy confirming his reputation as a fine actor beyond the rom-com roles he can handle in his sleep.
Helena Bonham Carter is equally restrained as Albert’s loving wife Elizabeth, the gentle power behind the throne, and is especially fine in a delicious scene where the royal couple visit Lionel in his modest home and finally meet Lionel’s wife (played by Jennifer Ehle, who is given little to do), who knows nothing about her husband’s rather famous client.
David Seidler’s clever and amusing script allows a fascinating delve into a real-life story. Firth’s Albert is a man physically and psychologically tormented by his affliction and his bravery in both finding a way to deal with the situation and keeping on insisting in Lionel’s assistance in the face of distrust from his advisors is to be applauded. Director Tom Hooper (who made The Damned United) keeps things simple, relying on top-notch production design and costumes rather than flashy filmic flourishes, which sensibly enables the emotion rather than the gravitas to shine through. It is a moving and charming film that is entertaining, touching and informative….and all the better for it.
|Deep Focus (Sept
10, 2010, by Todd McCarthy)
Queen Elizabeth II got the royal screen treatment in “The Queen” four years ago and now it’s her father’s turn in “The King’s Secret,” another entirely engaging inside look at little-known goings-on among the Windsors. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush lead a splendid cast in this curious and ultimately quite moving story of an Australian speech therapist who endeavors to rid the future king of his stammer and enable him to speak in public as World War II looms. As audience-friendly as it could be, the film will provide a crucial test of the Weinstein Company’s ability to maximize a title’s potential, as this is the sort of Anglophilic crowd pleaser that routinely made fistfuls for the old Miramax.
In most ways, Albert Frederick Arthur George, who assumed the throne in 1936, was an undistinguished, unexciting man one would not expect to be one of the first monarchs to come to the mind of a dramatist in search of compelling material. Nor did the third of George V’s sons himself have great expectations of ever becoming king himself.
But nature plays its tricks, not the least of which was afflicting the handsome fellow with a speech impediment that effectively paralyzed him when he was forced to make a public address, as mortifyingly witnessed in the opening scene of the Prince of York (Firth) failing to get his words out at a BBC broadcast speech at Wembly Stadium.
Secretly, his wife Elizabeth (Helen Bonham Carter) calls on Lionel Logue (Rush), a rather lowercase Henry Higgins who once performed Richard III on the Aussie boards (overplaying him, no doubt) and whose ego significantly dwarfs any academic or scientific credentials. Reluctantly making his way to the therapist’s grandly shabby digs, the prince has evidently never before met a commoner with such effrontery; he is aghast at Logue’s adamantly egalitarian ways—the Australian insists upon calling him by his nickname “Bertie” and is taken aback by his no smoking policy—and much of the easy pleasure of the opening reels grows from the way Logue blithely treats his royal patient as he would a taxi driver from Stepney. “My castle, my rules,” he airily informs the future king.
Given that Bertie makes only fitful progress—listening to music while he speaks seems to help, and yelling out profanities loosens him up—it’s a good thing there are other things for screenwriter David Seidler (whose script for Francis Ford Coppola’s “Tucker: A Man and His Dream” sticks out from among loads of TV credits) to turn to for a little dramatic meat. And indeed there are, little matters such as the future of the empire, royal succession and World War II. George V (Michael Gambon), a strict fellow who terrified all his children, fears the “proletarian abyss” represented by developments in both Germany and the Soviet Union,” and outwardly frets that the British Empire will crumble within a year of his death under the reign of his feckless party-boy eldest son Edward (Guy Pearce), who may also be soft on the Nazis.
When the old man dies, in 1936, Edward confesses, “Now I’m trapped,” as all he wants is to marry American two-time divorcee Wallis Simpson, out of the question for an English monarch. Within a year, Edward abdicates (over the radio with impeccable diction of which his brother is entirely incapable), leaving the throne to Bertie, who can’t handle the pressures of a Christmas address to the nation. Desperately calling upon Logue’s services in preparation for his coronation speech, King George VI shortly faces his most significant, and unavoidable, challenge of all—rousing and uniting the nation over the airwaves when Britain is forced into war with Germany in September, 1939. The way Logue guides him through it, quite like an orchestra conductor, and the manner in which the ill-cast monarch rises to the occasion almost in spite of himself, is powerfully dramatized with the help of a montage of concerned subjects listening all around the empire; perhaps the use of Beethoven to back it up is a bit much, but the effect is quite affecting all the same.
Required to enact the role of an awkward bumbler of little distinction through most of the story, Firth magnificently demonstrates the virtue of his habitual understatement in this climactic scene; what has been bottled up for the better part of two hours is finally released, resulting in deep emotion and relief for the viewer. It’s not easy to give a magnetic, involving performance when your character is a maladroit man who describes himself as “the solemnest king who ever lived,” but Firth manages it in an excellent follow-up to his career breakthrough turn last year in “A Single Man.” Rush has the showier role and provides the brash energy needed to offset the dourness of most of the royals. Bonham Carter provides the future Queen Mother with the right touch of shrewdness and Pearce leaves little question that Edward regarded public duty as an irritating distraction to private satisfaction. Joining them in lending solid support are Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop of Canterbury, supremely annoyed at Logue’s presence on any occasion; Anthony Andrews as the stylishly misguided Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and Timothy Spall as the ascendent Winston Churchill, who had battled a stammer of his own.
Director Tom Hooper, who made Revolutionary War-era America come so vividly alive in the “John Adams” miniseries, once again animates historical material with sharply drawn characters and lifelike behavior, although he does continue to over-rely on distorting wide-angle shots. One inspired touch has the verbally thwarted king unable to suppress his envy and admiration while watching newsreel footage of Adolf Hitler demonstrating his oratorical brilliance.
|Variety (Sept 4,
2010, by Peter De Bruge)
Americans love kings, so long as they needn't answer to them, and no king of England had a more American success story than that admirable underdog George VI, Duke of York, who overcame a dreadful stammer to rally his people against Hitler. A stirring, handsomely mounted tale of unlikely friendship starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech" explores the bond between the painfully shy thirtysomething prince and the just-this-side-of-common, yet anything-but-ordinary speech therapist who gave the man back his confidence. Weinstein-backed November release should tap into the same audience that made "The Queen" a prestige hit.
Though hardly intended as a public service message, "The King's Speech" goes a long way to repair decades of vaudeville-style misrepresentation on the subject of stuttering, which traditionally serves either for comic effect (thin k Porky Pig) or as lazy shorthand for a certain softness of mind, character or spine. Screenwriter David Seidler approaches the condition from another angle entirely, spotlighting a moment in history when the rise of radio and newsreels allowed the public to listen to their leaders, shifting the burden of government from intellect to eloquence.
These pressures are too much for Prince Albert (Firth), whose crippling speech impediment causes public embarrassment at 1925's British Empire Exhibition. Director Tom Hooper (HBO's "John Adams," "The Damned United") alternates between nervous Albert and the fussy yet professional BBC announcer in this opening scene to contrast one man dragged into public speaking with another who'd elected the bloody job for himself.
Albert's father, King George V (authoritatively played by Michael Gambon), is no more fond of the wireless, but eventually embraces the device for a series of annual Christmas addresses. Though tough on his tongue-tied son, he views Albert as a more responsible successor than his reckless brother Edward (Guy Pearce), who indeed will famously renounce the throne to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson. But George V fears the stammer is unbefitting the throne. "In the past, all a king had to do was wear a uniform and not fall off his horse," he laments.
With responsibility for the crown looming, Albert's wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, in her most effectively restrained performance since "The Wings of the Dove") seeks out the services of Lionel Logue (Rush), a frustrated Australian actor turned speech therapist. As portrayed by Rush, Logue is what some politely call a "force of nature"—all bluster, no tact, yet incredibly effective in his unconventional approach, rejecting the institutional thinking of the time in favor of vocal exercises and amateur psychotherapy.
While Seidler cleverly uses the prince's handicap as a point of entry, "The King's Speech " centers on the rocky connection that forms between Bertie (as the speech therapist calls the prince) and Lionel, whose extraordinary friendship arises directly from the latter's insistence on a first-name, equal-to-equal dynamic quite unlike anything the Duke of York had previously encountered. Though few would deem it scandalous today, the film rather boldly dares to humanize a figure traditionally held at arm's length from the public and treated with divine respect, deriving much of its humor from the brusque treatment the stuffy monarch-to-be receives from the irreverent Lionel (including a litany of expletives sure to earn the otherwise all-ages-friendly film an R rating).
While far from easy, both roles provide a delightful opportunity for Firth and Rush to poke a bit of fun at their profession. Firth (who is a decade older than Albert-cum-George was at the time of his coronation, and a good deal more handsome) has used the "stammering Englishman" stereotype frequently enough before, in such films as "Pride and Prejudice" and "A Month in the Country." Here, the affliction extends well beyond bashful affectation, looking and sounding more like a man drowning in plain air as his face swells and his throat clucks, yet no words come out. Rush's character, meanwhile, is that most delicious of caricatures, a recklessly bad actor whose shortcomings are embellished by someone who clearly knows better.
On the surface, Rush appears to have the showier of the two parts. But the big scenes are indisputably Firth's, with two major speeches bookending the film (the latter one being the 1939 radio broadcast with which King George VI addressed a nation entering into war with Germany) and a surprisingly candid confession at roughly the midway point (in which Albert reveals the abusive treatment that likely created his stammer in the first place).
Hooper, who nimbly sidestepped the pitfalls of the generic sports movie in "The Damned U nited," proves equally spry in the minefield of blue-blood biopics by using much the same m.o.—focusing on the uncommonly strong bond between two men (the director reunites with Timothy Spall here as a rather comical-looking Winston Churchill). Another repeat collaborator, production designer Eve Stewart, re-creates both royal digs and Logue's wonderfully disheveled atelier, while Alexandre Desplat's score gives the film an appropriate gravitas.
| The Hollywood Reporter
(Sept 4, 2010, by Kirk Honeycutt)
Bottom Line: A riveting, intimate account at how a British king triumphed over a speech impediment with the help of an unorthodox speech coach.
Lately, British filmmakers have zeroed in on personal moments and back stories that go a long way in not only humanizing their royal family but also creating a much greater awareness of the trials and difficulties faced by those in such "exalted" positions. It perhaps started with "The Queen," continued with "Young Victoria" and now achieves the most intimate glimpse inside the royal camp to date with "The King's Speech."
Each of these films features a mesmerizing central performance. Although "Speech" requires shared billing, with no disrespect to Geoffrey Rush's spot-on work here, Colin Firth, following up on his Oscar-nominated role in "A Single Man," now can claim a place among Britain's finest film actors with his performance as the man who became King George VI.
The film is a sure winner in the British Isles and many former colonies. How its most rebellious and historically challenged colony will react when the Weinstein Co. releases the film domestically Nov. 24 is hard to gauge. Perhaps only decent box office can be anticipated.
The thing about Bertie, as George V's second son was called by the family, is that he never is going to be king. A good thing too because he suffers from a terrible stammer and what nowadays would be called low self-esteem. Then history conspires against him.
But this is getting ahead of the story, ably written by David Seidler and directed by Tom Hooper. While dad (Michael Gambon) remains on his throne and his elder brother, David (Guy Pearce), gadding about as an international playboy, Bertie (Firth) has to give a speech. He looks like he is about to attend his own execution, and words stick in his throat so badly that what comes out is unintelligible.
His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), seeks out speech therapists but only disaster results. Then she stumbles onto Lionel Logue (Rush).
The movie establishes him as an eccentric, lower-class and somewhat ignoble version of Henry Higgins. He and his family live in a large, oddly wallpapered flat that contains only a fraction of the furniture necessary to fill it. What's worse, he's Australian and a failed ham actor specializing in eloquent though thoroughly bad Shakespeare. Yet even when he realizes a royal is summoning him, he insists that it's "his castle, his rules": The royal must take his lessons in Lionel's home.
Thus the movie sets up an "Odd Couple" dynamic that, like the famous Neil Simon play/movie/TV series, measures out comedy and drama in nearly even doses. Bertie and Lionel -- the therapist insists on a first-name basis—discover common ground, quarrel bitterly, share a drink, make a breakthrough, then break off all contact. At the root of Bertie's problem, it gradually emerges, is a wretched childhood, no matter how rich and glorious it might seem to outsiders.
Now comes history's little trick. Brother David eventually becomes Edward VIII; you know, the irresponsible sap who decides he'd rather marry a well-traveled, twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson, than be king of England. Following his brother's abdication, Bertie becomes George VI, which means a lot of speech giving—especially on the eve of World War II.
The movie lets everything build to George VI's first wartime speech. In the early days of the wireless—long before television, of course—this means a king can stand alone in a room with only a microphone and speech coach to get him through those three minutes (egged on by Beethoven's mighty Seventh Symphony). It's an understandably moving moment, but the film has nicely paved the way with long therapy sessions, conversations and comic fights between its couple.
A king is made into a commoner and a commoner—no, worse, an Aussie—is made into a pro that for all his lack of pedigree can rule enunciation, diction and language.
Who knows how close any of this comes to historical fact; the filmmakers' main source appears to be the Logue family. It doesn't really matter, though, because something about all this feels right, as do the characters.
Firth doesn't just make a British king vulnerable and insecure, he shows the fierce courage and stamina beneath the insecurities that will see him through his kingship. It's not just marvelous acting, it's an actor who understands the flesh-and-blood reality of the moment and not its history. It's an actor who admires his character not in spite of his flaws but because of them.
Rush is absolutely wonderful, and Hooper shoots him with all sorts of angles, lighting and strange positions that makes him look like an alien landed in 1930s London. Nothing much impresses him, and he is supremely confident in his own expertise, even when challenged by a star pupil and his coterie of advisers. He won't yield an inch.
Carter is a revelation here despite a long career as a leading lady. She makes Bertie's wife into not just a warm and caring soul but a witty and attractive woman who understands her husband much better than he does himself.
There are many supporting performances, but many, alas, are waxwork. Perhaps the worst belongs to the usually reliable Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill.
The production is a strong one. No one can do this sort of thing like the Brits. Oops, composer Alexandre Desplat is French. Oh well, in this instance let's make him an honorary Australian.