The King's Speech was worth the wait.
Since he was a young boy, Prince Albert, the Duke of York (Colin Firth), has had to deal with an at times crippling stammer whenever he speaks. He fears addressing more than a few people at a time, always knowing at any moment the stammer could kick in, and he will freeze up. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), has helped him as much as he can, going to any and all speech therapists and experts. Their latest is Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Aussie with some out-of-the-box ideas. As Albert and Logue start to work together though, England is hurtling toward World War II where Prince Albert may be thrust into a power position he wants nothing to do with.
Big action movies, raunchy comedies, and schmaltzy romance stories. And then there are historical dramas like this where the focus is.....acting. Go figure. The focus is on the actors and actresses as they develop these characters that just happen to be real-life people. All three lead performances were nominated for an Oscar -- Firth winning, with Carter losing to Melissa Leo in The Fighter, Rush to Christian Bale in the same movie -- and this will sound simple, but it's fun to watch the actors act, especially actors as talented as these. Even the supporting performances (however small) ring true. It's always a good start when the acting is as memorable as this.
How come? Because as was the case here in director Tom Hooper's film, everything else falls into place behind it. Hooper joined Firth in the Oscar-winning department for his job behind the camera, and he deserves it. At just under two hours, the story covers a lot of ground, beginning in 1925 and running all the way to the start of World War II as Albert -- now George, 'Albert' sounds so Germanic according to Churchill -- rises to the throne of England. Hooper does a subtle but effective job with his camera, turning ordinary shots into interesting shots, making so many scenes look like paintings. From the costuming to the locations, the look of the movie helps make this period piece something special. Like period pieces that work, you feel like you're in 1930s England. It's easy to mess that up -- the audience realizing they're watching a movie -- but it is handled very effectively here.
Oh, right, back to the acting. In a performance that saw him win his second straight Oscar, Firth delivers a very human part. For all his Royal upbringing, Prince Albert has struggled through life for as long as he can remember. The opening scene where he crumbles giving a speech is heartbreaking as are several others as we see him battle his stammer while speaking. He wants to speak, to be a strong leader, but his personal make-up just won't allow it. While Firth is very good, I thought the best performance was from Rush. It's not a showy part, but it could have been. This is a supporting part that in the wrong hands would have been very obvious and even annoying. Rush never lets it get there. As Lionel, he sees all of Albert's potential and through all his unique, even odd ideas, genuinely wants to help him. In the smallest of the three parts, Carter still manages to leave a positive impression. Her Elizabeth is a loving wife who tirelessly wants to help her husband.
The period piece, where movie fans get to see some always solid character actors do their damnedest to upstage the stars. Well, sort of. 'Speech' has a handful of those parts, starting with Guy Pearce as Prince Edward, Albert's older brother who causes a stir when he becomes king because of his relationship with a twice-divorced American woman, Wallis Simpson (Eve Best). Also look for Michael Gambon as King George, Albert's dying father, Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop, Jennifer Ehle as Myrtle, Lionel's wife, and Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, the soon-to-be Prime Minister of England.
I don't know what I was expecting going into this Best Picture-winning film. I didn't love it as much as appreciate it, but I think that was the objective. The acting is great as is the visual look of the movie, but it's never anything Earth-shattering in its execution. Sit back and enjoy the natural drama and even some humor of the situation. I especially enjoyed the relationship and friendship that develops between Albert and Logue as they work together. An actor's got to act, and that's on display here.
The King's Speech <---trailer (2010): ***/****