December 02, 2010

MOVIES: The King's Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010)

Here we find about as many Oscar-baiting elements as it's possible to cram into one movie. Opulently appointed period piece, prestigious cast given showy roles to play, interesting historical tidbit, British royalty, disability -- heck, it's even got World War II hovering in the background.

Colin Firth stars as Prince Albert, second son of King George V (Michael Gambon). Even as the second son, Bertie is expected to do a certain amount of public speaking, which is a terrifying ordeal for him due to his stammer. He's tried all of the royal doctors and speech therapists, to no avail. But his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) -- these are the parents of the current Queen Elizabeth -- has tracked down Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian therapist whose techniques may be unorthodox, but who promises results.

Logue's work becomes even more important when Bertie's brother, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), abdicates to marry an American divorcee, and suddenly Bertie becomes King George VI, a role he never expected or wanted. With war on the horizon, and the new technology of radio available to carry his inspiring words around the word to the entire British empire, Bertie must find a way to overcome his speech impediment.

Much of the movie is a two-hander for Firth and Rush, and they're both marvelous. Firth's stammer is thoroughly convincing, as is his terror when forced to face the microphone and his disdain for Logue's methods, which border on psychotherapy. Rush, an actor I generally find to be overly hammy and attention-stealing, has a lighter touch than usual here, and (for once) shares the screen gracefully.

So yeah, the movie occasionally feels like a blatant "we want trophies" grab, but it's usually not quite that unsubtle, and within the confines of its genre, it is a marvelous piece of entertainment.

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