The King's Speech

Colin Firth finds a new voice as King George VI

In the winter of 1936, the rather strange King Edward VIII, ruler of the United Kingdom, Emperor of India, and so forth, announced his decision to abdicate the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson, the rather loose American divorcée with whom he was besotted. This left Edward’s younger brother, Albert, the Duke of York, to take his place—a circumstance that Albert (or Bertie, as he was called within the royal family) had never anticipated and didn’t particularly welcome. Plagued by a mortifying speech impediment—an extreme stammer—Albert knew that as king he would be required to hobnob in society and to address his subjects in speeches of considerable length, both in public and over the radio. Somewhat panicked by this prospect, and guided by his wife, the Lady Elizabeth, he sought out the services of an eccentric commoner, an emigree Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue. And Logue, through the use of decidedly unconventional techniques, undertook to cure the skittish monarch-to-be of his disabling defect.

Such at least is Albert’s story as compressed in The King’s Speech, a low-key but fascinating movie by the English director Tom Hooper. This royal tale, however unfamiliar to most Americans, is brought to vibrant life by its three leads: Geoffrey Rush as Logue, Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth, and especially Colin Firth as the bashful, tormented Albert. It’s not a typical Oscar-bait picture, but nominations, at least, seem likely in the near future.

Firth is among the most inward of actors, able to communicate a puzzled discomfort with a simple shift of his eyes; and in the role of Bertie—as Logue insists on calling him—he shows us a man walled in by the starchy imperiousness in which he’s been trained (“You’re the first ordinary Englishman I’ve spoken to,” he awkwardly tells his new therapist), and straining to free himself in search of help. Firth’s ability to project a fully detailed character through the scrim of Albert’s disability—a strangling knot of glottal chaos—is a marvel of concentrated skill.

Carter is also fine as Bertie’s affectionate wife, officially a commoner herself, who can play the game of royal deportment and also set it aside when necessary. (“It’s ‘Your Majesty’ the first time,” she tells Logue’s flustered wife (Jennifer Ehle) with muted amusement, “then ‘Ma’am’ after that.”)

But it’s Rush who most fully rises to Firth’s level here. His Logue is a failed Shakespearean actor and self-taught speech specialist; he refuses to be intimidated by his royal patient, and his course of treatment—sitting on Bertie’s stomach (“to strengthen your diaphragm”); instructing the hapless Duke to join him in furiously flapping his jowls and hopping around declaiming obscenities; and, in a breakthrough moment, tricking him into shedding his stammer momentarily through the use of a new recording device—is richly entertaining.

A number of other notable players pass through the story: Guy Pearce as the weak-willed Edward; Michael Gambon as the brothers’ dying father, King George; Derek Jacobi as the snippy Archbishop of Canterbury; and Timothy Spall (Wormtail in the Harry Potter films) somewhat overplaying the role of Winston Churchill. These characters lead us through a number of great halls and grand country houses, and the director, in a sly touch, presents these long-ago environments as they must have been: largely sunk in silence, overstuffed, and rather musty—worlds away from modern glamour and gloss.       

Firth, who dominates virtually every scene with the subtlest of means, is understandably being touted for a second Oscar nomination for his work in this picture. (His first was for last year’s A Single Man.) It hardly matters if he finally collects a statuette: His performance here is its own reward.

Kurt Loder is a writer, among other things, embedded in New York.

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  • PIRS||

    Who the Hell did he think he was marrying the person of his choice! Did he think he was King or something?

  • hmm||

    He was also a raving fucking Nazi and supporter of Hitler.

    His abdication probably had more to do with that than his wife. He was probably seen as a risk to the kingdom.

  • ||

    Ff-ff-ffu. Um.
    Fu-fu-ff-fu-fu.
    Fff-ffu-ff-ff-fuck you!

  • dfd||

    Nice effort sloop, but it was the successor Prince Albert (George VI)who stuttered, not the abdicating Edward VIII.

  • AlmightyJB||

    It was probably from all those years being stuck in that can.

  • l0b0t||

    Sort of the reverse. According to Alan Ereira, in his excellent Kings And Queens Of England series, in addition to Mrs. Simpson being a divorcee and dating a car salesman and an Irish Peer as well as His Majesty, the FBI had rather convincing evidence she was also sleeping with the German Ambassador Von Ribbentrop and feared that she was a German agent.

  • hmm||

    I thought both they both visited Hitler and were subsequently banished to the Bahamas. Isn't there a never published news interview with Edward praising Hitler.

    They were both Nazi fucktards.

  • Paul||

    I've always wondered what it would take to get banished to the Bahamas with endless wads of cash.

  • l0b0t||

  • hmm||

    Ah, so the think he was making a play for the throne if Hitler took the Britain.

  • BakedPenguin||

    In 1951, the Duke produced a ghost-written memoir, A King's Story, in which he expresses disagreement with liberal politics.

    What a surprise. I suspect by 'liberal', they mean 'classical liberal'.

  • ||

    No, actually, it means the welfare state and trade unionism for the most part.

    The Duke of Windsor is quoted several times as being highly critical of the socialism taking over Britain in the late 40s/early 50s.

    It's not all that unusual for people to combine utterly wrongheaded notions with utterly sensible ones.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Isaac - that's odd, considering Hitler's coop-ting of unions. It's not like he was out to destroy them - he just wanted their buy-in. However, he also wanted their employers' buy-in, so he promised both a good deal.

    Kind of like General Motors.

  • BakedPenguin||

    ...in addition to Mrs. Simpson being a divorcee and dating a car salesman and an Irish Peer as well as His Majesty, the FBI had rather convincing evidence she was also sleeping with the German Ambassador Von Ribbentrop and feared that she was a German agent.

    What happened to rule 36? There's got to be a pron bio-pic of Queen Slut somewhere.

  • ||

    There have been specials on her before..Strangely, mostly by British. Americans love romances, but they hate Nazis.

    Madonna is working on a film about the couple now, titled W.E. (Wallis and Edward).

  • ||

    From everything I've seen, the abdication of Edward VIII was one of the best things to ever happen to Britain. At least one historian I've read believed that Edward would have fled Britain at the first sign of German bombers; George staying in Britain and (largely) sharing the difficulties of his subjects was a tremendous morale boost. It sucks that Edward suffered for it, especially since the Church of England was basically founded to legitimize divorce, but the British really dodged a bullet.

  • Paul||

    I see by the movie still that Bonham Carter combed her hair for this role.

  • hmm||

    I think she's kinda hot in the Hairy Potter films.

    That has to be a porno name.

  • ||

    Michael Gambon in an English production? Wow, that's a big surprise.

  • Ted S.||

    Nitpick: It's Derek Jacobi with an I. And I thought he died years ago. Apparently not. :-|

  • BakedPenguin||

    Dead actors seldom get the "snippy" roles.

  • PIRS||

    Bela Lugosi did.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052077/

  • BakedPenguin||

    And Peter Murphy got the last word on that.

  • Coke Zero||

    Important thing about the film not mentioned in this piece:
    It has a limited release in the US today. And by limited, I mean it was released in four theaters in New York and LA.

  • Ted S.||

    They're trying to get Oscar consideration.

  • ||

    Edward was a masochistic. And that pretty much was the whole of the man. It's what he got from Wallis Simpson and why he wouldn't leave her. Which is why he had to step down. It's even underneath his attraction to the Third Reich.

  • SIV||

    Helena Bonham Carter from my archive.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I have that one as well. Very nice. I don't know what it is about her, but I definitely like.

  • ||

    Americans almost always get British titles and forms of address wrong. The Duke of York's wife, Elisabeth, was legally a commoner, but she was an aristocrat, the daughter of an earl. Before her marriage to Prince Albert, she would have been known as "Lady Elisabeth," but thereafter as Princess Elisabeth, Duchess of York.

  • Adamson||

    That is incorrect on two counts.

    1) Her name was Elizabeth with a Z, not an S.
    2) Upon marriage to the Duke of York she became known as "Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York". While she then had the status of a Princess, she was always known as the Duchess of York until she became Queen.

  • ||

    You're both wrong. She was the third daughter of a Brighton fishmonger, George Mum. She was named "Queen" after a popular band of the era. Queen Mum never saw it coming but always made the best of it. She was only half the size of Princess Diana but a fine boxer nevertheless, especially about the knees. She died standing up.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Hey, did you go to Hollywood Upstairs History College too?

  • ||

    1. The English don't like to be called "British"
    2. Americans may get "British" facts wrong, but the English almost always get American stereotypes wrong. We're not all loud, stupid cowboys from Jersey. Some of us are simple midwestern folk with homespun wisdom, pickup trucks and church bake sales.

  • ||

    1. I have never heard an Englishman get upset at being called 'British.' I have heard Scots get HIGHLY upset at being called English, and the Duchess of York was Scottish, hence 'British' titled.
    2. And many simple midwestern folk are loud, stupid cowboys. Glory in our manliness!

  • ||

    You are right about the spelling of Elizabeth, I stand corrected. On the second issue, your point is a distinction without a difference. She would have had the title of Duchess of York (as I said) and because she was a royal princess, she was entitled to be addressed as HRH. My larger point (which you seem to have passed by in your eagerness to correct me) remains.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Americans almost always get British titles and forms of address wrong.

    Good. I'm glad we don't have to get them right. Also, this.

  • Abignaile Hyacinth-Smith||

    Sorry, but not pretentious enough. it should have started with "You Americans..."

  • Adamson||

    No, you're missing my point. You said

    she would have been known as "Lady Elisabeth," but thereafter as Princess Elisabeth, Duchess of York.

    What you should have written is that was how she was officially styled, not how she was known. She was known as the Duchess of York, and the press of the period referred to her as such - not as Princess Elizabeth, and especially not after the birth of the Duchess' first child, who WAS referred to as Princess Elizabeth.

  • Palin's Pet North Korean ||

    Kurt Loader is such a bore.

  • Punny Smythe Harris||

    He fought in the Bore War.

  • chengduSEO||

    I think she's kinda hot in the Hairy Potter films.

  • fdgfd||

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  • ||

    I once saw a documentary on King George VI on the History Channel. He was a shy, stuttering man who never wanted to be king and grew not thinking he'd ever have to. Yet after his selfish brother Edward VIII made a mess of things and quit George didn't hesitate to step in and do his duty. As king of Britain during WWII, he and his family didn't lounge around in some palace. They served, worked and shared in the hardships of their people. I certainly don't want a monarchy here but I think the attitude and conduct of George VI is one that all public servants can emulate.

  • ||

    Agreed! Some site actually said liking this movie over The Social Network was unAmerican.

  • Mad Max||

    TOM HOOPER: This is Tom Hooper.

    BUTTHEAD: Uh, are you the director of the, uh,

    BEAVIS [in background] biopic!

    BUTTHEAD: Yeah, biopic about Prince Albert?

    HOOPER: Why, yes, indeed, I am the director of that upcoming film *The King's Speech.*

    BUTTHEAD: Is it, ah, in the can?

    BEAVIS [in background]: No, dumbass, we rehearsed, you're supposed to ask if the Prince Albert is in the can. Because "in the can" is a term of art meaning the movie is finished.

    BUTTHEAD: So, yeah, like, is Prince Albert in the can?

    HOOPER: The movie is being released in theatres, hopefully in your own community.

    BUTTHEAD: Well, if Prince Albert is in a can, you better let him out, huh, huh.

    BEAVIS [in background]: Numbnuts, you totally blew the joke.

    HOOPER: Is this Hugh Grant again? I'm sorry you feel bitter about me giving the stuttering king's role to some other actor, but there's no call to be making prank phone calls.

    BUTTHEAD: Huh-huh.

    HOOPER: You *must* be Hugh Grant. I'm sorry, I'm discontinuing this conversation. [click]

    BUTTHEAD: That was awesome.

    BEAVIS: It *could* have been awesome if you'd done the joke right, idiot.

  • ||

    Hooper wanted Hugh Grant first. Grant turned him down. Firth is laughing all the way to the Oscars..

  • sdfgdsg||

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  • shiroi neko||

    King of queen?

  • Dave||

    A psychology analysis for The King's Speech,
    http://www.psychology-advice.n.....rue-trauma

  • M.C. Schoenberg||

    Dear Kurt,
    Your review of the movie "The King's Speech" is one of the best I have read. You captured it's essence!
    This inspiring film, shines a Hollywood spotlight on the process of speech therapy at a turning point in history. David Seidler, brilliantly focuses his true –to- therapy script on the struggles and triumphs of King George VI managing severe stuttering. The acting is outstanding.
    Visionary speech therapy pioneer, Lionel Logue, is now known around the world through the film. Whether I am called a speech/ language therapist, speech pathologist or speech/voice coach, it is an honor to follow in his footsteps every day in my consulting practice.

  • M.C. Schoenberg||

    The compliment stands well to be repeated.
    This time with a bit of editing-
    You captured its essence!

  • Louis Vuitton 1904 Monogram Be||

    http://www.louisvuitton.be/lou.....-p-38.html Its a very good post. I was very pleased to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this great read

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