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Movie Review: The King's Speech (R)

'King's Speech' is impeccable
The King's Speech (R)
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 111 min
MPAA rating: R (for some language)
Release Date: 2010-11-26
Tags: drama, movies
By "Lawrence Toppman, Movie Critic"
The Charlotte Observer

"Drive for show, putt for dough," say golfers. Any talented pro can get big things right, but top prizes go to those who master details. That's what makes "The King's Speech" so polished, thoughtful and touching.

Consider something as small as the incidental music. The future King George VI (Colin Firth) consults speech therapist Lionel Logue about a stammer. Logue (Geoffrey Rush) tells him to recite while listening to music so loud it'll block out his anxiety. Logue chooses the overture to "The Marriage of Figaro," the Mozart opera where a commoner proves he should be treated as an equal by a nobleman.

Cut much later to the king's big BBC speech, meant to reassure his nation that he can lead them into World War II. As he approaches the once-paralyzing microphone, Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 - known as "The Emperor" - swells up, telling us this man is ready at last to be a ruler.

Every detail in this period drama is chosen with similar care, but it's far more than the A-list version of "Masterpiece Theatre" the trailers suggest. As Peter Morgan did in "The Queen," a film about George's daughter Elizabeth, screenwriter David Seidler shows us the ways the royal family can be utterly unlike us in public behavior, yet much like us in private fears and longings.

The real George VI was never supposed to be king. Bertie, as he was known, was the second son of George V, destined to be a modestly important royal when his elder brother took the throne upon their father's death in 1936.

But Edward VIII reigned only 11 months, until he quit to marry a divorced American who'd never be embraced by the people or recognized as queen by the Church of England. Reluctant Bertie now found himself on the throne, with Hitler's jackboots already rumbling in the distance.

The film depicts this story efficiently and swiftly. Hooper uses excellent actors - severe Michael Gambon as the dying king, effete Guy Pearce as the abdicating one - to sketch in the family history. Helena Bonham Carter plays Bertie's wife with protective warmth toward her husband and coolness toward anyone who fails to acknowledge the royals' implicit superiority.

Yet the most engrossing relationship links Bertie and Logue, who lives with his family in a humble, rather ugly apartment attached to his unprepossessing office. One of these men was "made" by his DNA, the other by his own efforts. One is fabulously rich, the other barely middle-class. One is echt-British, the other an Australian regularly made to feel inferior in his adopted country.

They cannot meet as peers, and the future king treats Logue with contempt at first: Many respected doctors have failed him, and he doesn't see how this man with no letters after his name can help. Bertie is desperate to cut a better public figure, especially when he knows he'll represent England to the world at large, but he can't put much faith in someone beneath his class.

Yet as Logue makes headway against the impediment, Bertie comes to trust him. The lines between them are continually redrawn - Logue has a habit of stepping over them, sometimes unwisely - until they can speak as friends, if not quite equals.

Firth sometimes coasts as an actor on his looks and self-deprecating charm, but he rouses himself here to give the performance of his career: fearful, festive, even fiery. (The "R" rating was applied because Bertie realizes he doesn't stammer when he's angry, and he plunges happily into a string of obscenities.)

Rush, whose flamboyance won him an Oscar in "Shine," holds himself in check but fills Logue's dialogue with needling humor and incisive observations. The king-to-be may call the tune, but Logue wants to be the partner who leads the dance.

The movie turns into a historical pageant at times, with Derek Jacobi fluttering as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Anthony Andrews grave as Stanley Baldwin, and Timothy Spall growling and brandishing a cigar as Churchill.

But the therapist-patient connection keeps the film down to earth and reminds us that this could in some way be our story, too. The Man Who Would Be King - or would rather not be, in Bertie's case - is still, at bottom, a man.

Reviews & Comments
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Dec. 24, 2010 - The Charlotte Observer - Lawrence Toppman, Movie Critic

"Drive for show, putt for dough," say golfers. Any talented pro can get big things right, but top prizes go to those who master details. That's what makes "The King's Speech" so polished, thoughtful and touching.

(Full review)
Feb 07, 2011 - Shinsha on The King's Speech (R)
All that German Music...

There may be some irony (which doesn’t seem intentional) in choosing only German/Austrian composers for the soundtrack, but I think it marvelously fits the pictures and situations it accompanies. The movie consistently employs 3 slow, 2nd movements (from Brahms’s Requiem, Beethoven’s 7th, and his “Emperor” concerto), two of which include ostinato rhythms that hypnotize in their unchanging pulsation—they almost sound like funeral marches or processions. Bertie needed exactly that type of music to help him concentrate and feel some continuity. He had practiced with such great musical works—albeit German—from his very first meeting with Lionel. The final scene with Beethoven’s “Emperor” suits the final picture of George VI facing the crowd—for the first time, as a true king, who can even deliver a speech. BTW, the epithet ("Emperor") was not Beethoven’s but has been mostly used in England.

Dec 31, 2010 - seneca91 on The King's Speech (R)
German Music for King's Patriotic Speech?

The background music to THE KING'S SPEECH hit a real clinker with the choice of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony (not the Emperor Concerto, as Lawrence Toppman asserted) at the movie's climax. George VI's patriotic speech aiming to inspire and hearten his subjects for the coming war on Germany should not have been accompanied by one of Hitler's favorite composers. The moment called for music by the likes of Elgar or William Walton or any number of other distinctly British composers. Beethoven at that moment in the film bordered on treason. Or was the filmmaker winking at the fact that many British aristocrats were closet Hitlophiles?

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