December 24, 2010 in Features

Review: ‘King’s Speech’ hits right note at every turn

Christy Lemire Associated Press
 

“The King’s Speech” is the kind of handsomely photographed, weighty-yet-uplifting period drama that seems to arrive amid great fanfare come awards time each year.

It’s based on a true story about British royalty – always a favorite among Oscar voters – features a glittery cast and hits every note you expect it to hit.

Yet the film from director Tom Hooper (“The Damned United,” HBO’s Emmy-winning “John Adams”) is so flawlessly appointed and impeccably acted, you can’t help but succumb.

At times it feels like no less of a mismatched-buddy comedy than the road-trip flick “Due Date,” although the opposites who initially clash and eventually cling to one another are played by the esteemed Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.

Firth is arrogant and uptight as King George VI (father of Queen Elizabeth II), who’s struggled all his life against a debilitating stutter.

Rush plays speech therapist Lionel Logue, who persuades the priggish royal to loosen up with his unorthodox methods – encouraging him to sing and spew profanity, anything to get the words out in a fluid stream.

And there’s even a climactic deadline they have to make: The king, or “Bertie” as Lionel calls him to his great annoyance, must deliver a radio address to unite and inspire his people as the country stands on the brink of World War II.

But because it’s so well made, “The King’s Speech” allows you to forgive its formulaic nature. The obligatory training montage, for example, is shot so lushly and edited so briskly, it’s almost thrilling.

Same with the standard misunderstanding that keeps these guys apart before their inevitable, feel-good reunion: The argument takes place in a park with harsh, misty daylight streaking through the trees, and it’s striking.

Firth immerses himself, making the king’s pent-up rage feel palpable, and making us feel sympathy for him without allowing the performance to devolve mawkishly.

His Bertie is dignified, of course, but also deeply sad, and his relationship with Lionel causes him to realize that he’s never had a real friend. The nannies who raised him don’t count, and his father, King George V (a cruelly intimidating Michael Gambon), wasn’t much of a pal.

Helena Bonham Carter, sharp and no-nonsense in her snobbery as Bertie’s wife, the Queen Mum, stands earnestly by his side, but theirs is a rather mechanical relationship in which they do what they must to keep the monarchy humming.

The friendship that develops between Bertie and Lionel provides the film with its sweet, beating heart. Rush is adorably disheveled here, confident regardless of the formality of the situation.

He’s afraid of nothing, in contrast with his powerful but nervous patient, and watching the sparring matches between two actors at the top of their game is nothing short of a joy. You may as well give into it.

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