Monday, August 29, 2011

An Instant Classic

Last week I finally got to watch The King's Speech, which won last year's Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.  I hesitated about reviewing it because I may have been the last person in America who hadn't already seen the film, but I enjoyed it so much I can't resist raving about it.

As you probably know, the movie is the story of George VI's struggle to overcome his speech impediment, culminating in his live radio broadcast to the people of Great Britain announcing the start of the Second World War.  Hearing this summary of the film I had assumed that he took the lessons specifically for the purpose of readying himself for this important speech, but in fact he had started them years earlier while still the Duke of York.  Even then he had been expected to speak in public as one of the representatives of his father, George V, and every attempt plunged him deeper into anger and depression.

The speech instructor is played by Geoffrey Rush, one of England's great character actors (probably best known as Captain Barbossa in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) who is also one of the film's executive producers.  I would have expected him to walk away with the movie, and he does do a marvelous job, but Colin Firth more than holds his own as the royal stammerer.  He is completely believable as the shy, tongue-tied Duke with hidden reserves of anger and strength.

The rest of the cast is also wonderful, particularly Helena Bonham Carter as the Duke's wife Elizabeth and Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop.  The two little girls who play Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret are gravely adorable, especially when giving the royal wave alongside their parents.  The costumes and sets are terrific, too; I loved the seedy Harley Street office-cum-apartment where Lionel Logue, the speech therapist, lives and works, and the catty portrayal of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson is amusing and, if true, very enlightening.  If you somehow missed The King's Speech when it was making the rounds of the theaters, rent it now; you won't regret it.

Hear the actual speech by George VI:

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