© 2010 Ray Wong
I often wonder why movies about the British monarchy are so entertaining: The Queen, Young Victoria to name a few. Is it because they are often so well written and made, or we're just naturally fascinated by one of most visible empires in the world?
Prince George (Colin Firth) has a speech impediment: he stammers, especially during public speech. He constantly lives in the shadow of his more charismatic brother, Edward (Guy Pearce), who is heir to the throne and favorite of their father, King George V (Michael Gambon).
To help him get over his stammering and fear of public speech, George's wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) enlists speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Lionel, promising the prince his utter privacy (Lionel doesn't even tell his wife about "Bertie," his new patient), is known for his unorthodox methods. While he is successful in helping the prince improve, his antics and lack of personal boundary enrage Bertie, who eventually quits the treatment.
After King George V dies, Edward becomes King. Unfortunately, King Edward VIII is more interested in throwing parties and his relationship with an American divorcee than ruling the empire. Soon, Edward abdicates so he can marry Wallis Simpson. Bertie is thrust onto the throne, and he desperately needs Lionel's help or else he would become the laughing stock throughout the empire. As WWII approaches, King George VI must give one of the most important speeches in his life, and only Lionel can help him deliver.
Colin Firth (A Single Man) is brilliant as Bertie/King George VI. He shows great arrogance, temper, and vulnerability as the unwilling king who lives in the shadows of his father and brother all his life. Firth's performance is vibrant, affecting and mesmerizing. You can't help but root for him even though at times he could be such an ass. Geoffrey Rush (Elizabeth: the Golden Age) is equally impressive as Lionel. Rush successfully portrays a man who finds his calling, despite the lack of formal training, after his failure as an actor. The chemistry between Firth and Rush is undeniable, and that makes the relationship between their characters so much more believable and enjoyable to watch.
Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) finally gets a chance to stretch her dramatic ability again. As Queen Elizabeth ("The Queen Mother" as we know her), she is quietly strong and supportive, and she never passes a judgment and always treat people with respect. Derek Jacobi (Endgame) is effectively creepy as the Archbishop. Michael Gambon (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) is regal and mean as King George V, and through him we get to understand Bertie's emotional trauma. Guy Pearce (The Road) eerily looks older than Firth (who is 7 years older than Pearce) and is a dead-ringer for King Edward VIII. The weakest link is Timothy Spall (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) as Winston Churchill -- his imitation is very distracting.
Written by David Seidler (The King and I), the screenplay is very play-like and dialogue-heavy. As a movie, it is a bit threadbare. That said, the dialogue is well written, and there is plenty of conflict. The characters are well developed, with a lot of tension. The plot may have been simplistic, but the execution is fluid and unfolds nicely. The little bit of history, with WWII as the backdrop as well as seeing Queen Elizabeth II as a precocious little girl, (especially about Edward's abdication) is fascinating. Best of all, it's the unlikely relationship between a common man like Lionel and the future king that is so well written.
The performances are stellar in general, where Rush and Firth will most likely get their Oscar nominations. Under Tom Hooper's (The Damned United) direction, the film has a steady, almost nostalgic feel. The color tone is muted, and Hooper makes effective use of the simple sets. Hooper also focuses on the performances, with a lot of close-ups and steady shots that feature the actors' expressive faces.
The result is a well made character-driven personal story during one of the most interesting times of modern history. Firth and Rush should start practicing their acceptance speeches.
Stars: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall
Director: Tom Hooper
Writers: David Seidler
Distributor: Weinstein Company
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 118 minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 9
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 8.2 out of 10