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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 31, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 53
Regal Speech a kingly achievement
Arts & Entertainment
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Regal Speech a kingly achievement

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The King's Speech
Now Playing
King George V (Michael Gambon) is nearing the end of his days. His eldest son Edward (Guy Pearce) is next in line for the throne, but that doesn't mean he isn't going to do his best to make sure younger son Albert (Colin Firth) is prepared for royal duties just in case. After all, Edward seems more content to gallivant across the countryside with his thrice-divorced paramour, so there is the real possibility he might be unfit to be the King of England.

Albert isn't sure he wants or deserves to be king. While he loves his country, he doesn't think he should be the head of it. Thanks to a horrible stuttering problem, his public speaking skills are atrocious, and while he and his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) have done almost all they can think of to solve this problem, no treatments, no doctors, and no therapies have proven successful.

Enter Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). An Aussie speech therapist whose tactics are hardly orthodox, he believes he can help this unconfident member of the British Royal Family. Soon the pair verbally spar in a manner that is hardly proper, and the prince and the commoner transition from pupil and teacher to trusted friends whose relationship will last for decades.

The King's Speech is a gloriously old-fashioned historical drama that the British seem to do better than just about anyone. Directed by Tom Hooper (The Damned United) and written by David Seidler (Tucker: The Man and His Dream), the movie is obvious Oscar fodder that doesn't so much rise to the occasion as vault right over the top of it. It is one of the best films of the year and a clear Best Picture frontrunner, while Firth is a virtual shoo-in to walk off with the Academy Award for Best Actor.

None of that means a darn thing, however, if the movie itself isn't a crowd-pleasing winner. Happily, The King's Speech is all that and a bag of chips - and the contents of the gosh-darn refrigerator! For a dialogue-heavy picture, this one is exhilarating, and by the end I'd moved all the way forward in my seat - to the point I was leaning on the one directly in front of me. Like a great thriller, I was on pins and needles. Like an uproarious comedy, I was chortling out loud. And, most importantly, like the best in drama, this one had me shedding honestly earned tears of joy during the breathtaking climax.

Seidler's script is astonishing. Literate and heartfelt, intricate and complex, yet intimate and relatable, this is the sort of thing that can take a person's breath away. These are three-dimensional human beings, all of them breaking forth from the confines of the screen in a manner that ends up making them seem as if they're sitting in the seat next to you. I was captivated and enthralled, and there didn't seem to be a false note or beat anywhere to be found.

Needless to say, this is an actor's showcase. I've already stated the fate I feel Firth is destined for, but he's just so gosh-darn amazing there are not enough superlatives to describe his accomplishment. He's been so good for so long that a person almost takes for granted just how talented he is, but after last year's A Single Man and now this, I doubt I'll ever do anything like that again.

Rush, with the far more showy role (at least on the surface) rises up to meet Firth, matching wits with his fellow thespian as if they were both expert fencers tipping lances. This is the type of character the former Oscar-winner could easily have taken over the top and into the stratosphere, but he chooses instead to underplay his more offbeat tendencies to make his outbursts more emotionally effective.

There is a familiarity to this. There is a long history of British period costume epics standing out from the crowd, relatively recent examples including Howard's End, Shakespeare in Love, Pride & Prejudice, and The Queen. But just because it feels familiar doesn't mean anything going on is sub par or not up to snuff. A good film is a good film, and this one is absolutely marvelous, and I seriously doubt those who appreciate quality cinema are going to find anything to nitpick.

For my part, The King's Speech was rousing entertainment that made me feel energetic and alive. I left the theatre in rapture, and it was all I wanted to talk about as I made the trek back home. This was a movie that had me wrapped around its little finger so tightly I never wanted to be released. The film is a crowning achievement, and everyone involved should feel honored and proud to have been a part of it.

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