The King's Speech: movie review
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, as prince and speech therapist, are marvelous in 'The King's Speech,' a moving and remarkable story of friendship and triumph.
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But the conceit works because the filmmakers, like Lionel, regard Albert in his totality. He’s not King George VI, he’s a man. This is one of the very few films that plumb the psychological resonances of royalty instead of merely illustrating them. Firth is tremendously touching in the role without even once condescending to the audience. It would have been easy to sentimentalize Albert into a common-man-under-the-skin. But Firth gives us instead a portrait of a nowhere man suddenly thrust onto the world stage. His aloneness is palpable.Skip to next paragraph
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When asked by Lionel if he was ever close to anyone growing up, Albert speaks of his nannies. With his own daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, Albert, in his own guarded way, is the parent he probably wished he had. There’s a wonderful scene where he tells them a story about a penguin, and he seems to be regressing at that moment into an idyllic fantasy of what his own childhood might have been like. (He also doesn’t stammer as much with them.)
Albert also has a gravely humorous side. When Lionel, in an early scene, asks him if he knows any jokes, he answers that “timing isn’t my strong suit.” He watches Hitler fulminate in a newsreel and can’t help but comment that the man certainly can speak. Albert sees through the pretensions of kingship even as he is impelled to enact them. “We’re not a family, we’re a firm,” he says of his family. “We’ve become actors.”
Lionel is also a species of actor, and even though the film rather too neatly points up the correspondence between these two men, it makes emotional sense. Lionel, in the end, sees Albert as a performer who is capable not only of becoming the role he has inherited, but glorifying it.
This is how Lionel sees himself, too. When he auditions, early on, for the title role in a low-rent production of “Richard III,” he may be dreadful but the theatrical commitment is intense. Geoffrey Rush is such an imaginative actor that he can encompass this man’s entire conflicted make-up – the ambition, humility, obstinacy, sadness – in a single brief scene. Because he is capable of fully entering into another man’s psyche, Lionel comprehends Albert the way an artist might. As Albert’s speech therapist, Lionel is the great artist he never was as an actor.
The film concludes with the 1939 radio broadcast in which the stalwart, terrified King George VI, with Lionel alone by his side in a closed-off room, addresses Britain as it enters into war with Germany. This speech – a cliffhanger and a culmination – is what the entire movie has been incrementally leading up to. “Say it to me as a friend,” Lionel counsels Albert, and the words fall into place with the finality of a great truth. Grade: A (Rated R for some language.)