The King’s Speechrecommended viewing

Its biggest problem is how good it is
★★★★
☆
Released: 
2010
Director: 
Tom Hooper
Starring: 
Colin Firth, Geoffery Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi
The Setup: 
King George VI needs speech therapy, stat.
Discussion: 

Oh God, I am SO behind on writing reviews. I’ve seen like three movies at the theater that I haven’t even started writing about, and if I go too long before writing about them I start forgetting details, and then the review is a little generic, and the economy suffers, America falls behind, and let’s face it: the terrorists have won. All that riding on my shoulders! You see why I’m stressed. It’s all because there has been a ton of WORK at work lately, which is outrageous and inhumane [Amnesty International is currently investigating]. But seriously, what happened to work being DEAD over the holidays? That was the old economy. But that’s me, I’M old economy.

All right, I suppose we must turn our attention to the film at hand. This is an Oscar-bait movie that is so all-round good in every way that you’ll think it’s the mid-90s and Miramax is still owned by the Weinsteins. We open in 1929 with Colin Firth as soon-to-be King George VI barely able to get a complete word out while giving a speech at a public race, to be broadcast nationwide on the radio, then a fairly new invention. This creates a great wrinkle, as before, if you embarrassed yourself, it was just in front of the attending company. Now it’s broadcast across the country and perhaps the world. The movie gets the rhythm just right of showing the crowd looking expectantly at him, then slowly turning away as though embarrassed themselves, when they realize how badly he’s choking.

Then his wife, played by Helena Bonham Carter, goes to the office of Geoffery Rush as Lionel Logue, Australian import and unconventional speech therapist. They have apparently gone to all the other speech therapists, and found them all useless. Logue insists that the future king come to his office [rather than he go to the palace], insists on calling him “Bertie,” and imposes a number of other rules, all of which George is not used to. Firth plays George as a proud man mortified by his speech inability, one who quickly leaps to anger rather than deal with feeling embarrassed and inadequate. Rush plays Logue as a sensitive man comfortable with his eccentricity and confident of his then-unusual methods.

Logue is the only therapist who is able to get results, so George is soon coming every week. Logue says it’s best to work on both psychological and mechanical speech blockages, but George wants “Just mechanical.” This all well and good for a while, because the next person in line to be king is George’s older brother Edward, played by the always-delightful Guy Pearce. Problem is, Edward is seeing a divorced woman, who is also known to be seeing other men at the same time, and he plans to marry her, although this is strictly forbidden. Nevertheless, George wants Edward to stay on the throne, because if he doesn’t George will have to, and this would thrust George into the spotlight, where he will have to endure a series of embarrassing moments on the world’s stage. So there’s this unspoken issue that George is unable to advance and accept his greatness and move into the next stage of manhood, because he is held back by this issue.

What interested me most about this movie is that it is a story about psychotherapy, but taking place before the real age of psychotherapy [Freud was active in Austria, but he hadn’t been put into wide practice in England yet]. It is clear that George’s speech problems are largely psychological, and as they gradually open up and get to know and trust each other—a relationship that has to navigate all sorts of ideas about Royal vs. non-Royal propriety—George is able to gain confidence and eventually to open up personally to Logue. And there are scenes that will be familiar to anyone who has been through therapy, such as when the therapist pushes the patient too far, and drives him away for a time. So this is all about psychotherapy before there WAS a fully-formed field of psychotherapy.

For this reason, as well as the many obstacles thrown up by their differing social stations, the relationship that grows up between George and Logue is incredibly satisfying. George is believably gruff and distant at first, but we also see his anguished vulnerability as he faces horrible public embarrassment. The movie also expertly lays out hints of why he has his psychological issues, but without hammering too hard on any of them. Their relationship grows slowly and believably, without a false note, and it is satisfying toward the end to see George fiercely defending Logue and demanding his right to a place near him [although he is a non-Royal and not even a proper Englishman], as well as crowd-pleasing scenes like when Logue’s wife finally learns who her husband’s secret client really is.

When this first came out, it got somewhat mediocre reviews from some quarters for being the slightest bit TOO perfect. And it’s true—it’s well-made, well-written, well-acted, and pretty much everything is in place and working perfectly. And since it harks back to the golden age of Miramax and really seems to belong to that era, fifteen years ago, it can seem a little tired even upon release. So the element of surprise and discovering something a bit out of the ordinary is not to be found here. Nevertheless, a movie criticized as being too perfect is still pretty perfect, and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with a movie your parents will like every bit as much as you do, or that everyone can agree upon. This may be bald Oscar-bait, but it’s worthy Oscar-bait and if it gets those Oscars, it’ll deserve them. It’s just a plain ‘ol good, interesting, well-made movie.

Should you watch it: 

Yes, it’s very good. Your mom would like it, too.