Last night, PJ and I joined a couple of our friends at the cinema to see The King’s Speech, Colin Firth‘s new movie. Firth plays Albert Frederick Arthur George, the Duke of York, who became King George VI in 1936 when his older brother, Edward VIII, abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee.

The instability caused by his brother’s short reign of less than a year combined with the threat of a second world war puts  great deal of pressure on George VI to succeed as king; this success, however, is threatened by his inability to speak without stammering. The King’s Speech follows the Duke of York’s and then King’s efforts to overcome his impediment with the help of a speech therapist, Lionel Logue. Here’s the trailer:

Overall, this movie is excellent. One of the things that some of the blogs I’ve been reading lately have emphasized is that it’s an uplifting film, and it definitely is. All of us came out of the movie feeling that it was a very inspiring movie.

Much of this inspiration is due to Firth’s magnificent performance as the stuttering prince and king. His performance is both physical — you can see all of the muscular contortions his character is going through in order to get words literally out of his mouth — as well as emotional.

The emotional part is really what sells the character. When we hear about his early childhood, we quickly sympathize with him. In another scene, in which his older brother, now King of England and cavorting with Simpson, bullies him when he tries to make him see what he’s doing to the throne, we are very much on the prince’s side. Consequently, we celebrate his ascension to the throne and the success of his first war-time speech, which will set the tone for England’s response to Hitler and World War II.

The inspiration is also due to the delightful relationships Firth’s prince/king develops with his wife, played by Helena Bonham Carter, and his therapist, played by Geoffrey Rush. Bonham Carter is excellent as Queen Elizabeth, whom we all know as the Queen Mum. She plays the Duchess of York and then Queen of England as a woman devoted to her husband and to making the monarchy a respectable institution. Her Elizabeth is playful and energetic and hints at the woman who would enshrine herself as the symbol of English war resistance and royal stability for the second half of the twentieth century.

Rush is also wonderful as Lionel Logue. His role is more complicated than it might seem at first. He has to be the oddball speech therapist who becomes a real friend to the king. His Logue is earnest, humorous, and a bit of a twat. Balancing the necessary emotions and playfulness to achieve these qualities is difficult. Rush shines in the role.

Guy Pearce plays the playboy king in love with the American divorcee. Pearce is 7 years younger than Firth, and the age difference makes the fact that Pearce is playing the older brother a little odd — he looks younger than Firth. But both actors are great in their roles, so the suspension of disbelief isn’t too difficult to achieve.

Other aspects of the film that stood out to be is the masterful direction, the set design and decoration, the costumes, and the score. It should receive a high number of Oscar nominations in both acting and technical categories.

In addition to the age difference between Firth and Pearce, there are a couple of other liberties the film takes. The biggest is the fact that Logue treated the Duke of York for a much longer period before his ascended to the throne than the film suggests. Furthermore, by his ascension to the throne, George had largely overcome him stammer, rather than suddenly overcoming it just as he’s giving the most important speech of his life. But that doesn’t make for dramatic tension and cinematic climax, so the film abbreviates the treatment and maximizes the tension and suspense, which is achieves really well. Admittedly, neither I nor PJ nor our friends knew much about George VI or his stuttering, so none of these historical liberties affected our enjoyment of the movie.

All in all, this is an excellent movie, clearly one of the year’s best. I highly recommend it.

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