A round of applause for ‘The King’s Speech’

An end-of-the-year addition to the Golden Globe and Oscar nomination rush, The King’s Speech earns its place among the best films of 2010. Following the true story of King George IV of Britain, the film revolves around the possession of power: the power of father over son, the power of a king over his subjects, the power of a teacher over his pupil and — perhaps the most important of all — the power of speech in personal expression.

Colin Firth plays the stammering, humble George, who must take the throne when his older brother abdicates. Plagued by his inability to even tell his daughters a bedtime story without stuttering, George becomes absolutely hopeless when speaking in front of large crowds. His anxiety is only augmented by the recent invention of the radio, which suddenly forces his halting pauses to be widely available across the country, making his personal plague public.

His wife Elizabeth, played by Helena Bonham Carter, seeks help in a wide array of speech therapists, but it is the unusual methods of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) that catch the attention of the royal couple. In the scene where Lionel and George first meet, George sits on a couch and struggles to answer Lionel’s questions — both his stammer and his pride keep him from responding to the good-humored quips of his new speech therapist, who dares to call the future king by his family name, Bertie.

The unique and captivating friendship forged between a king who must sacrifice his pride to be taught and a teacher who must learn how to give a powerful man his voice forges the plotline of The King’s Speech. 

Half of the film easily garners laughs: Lionel teaches George to seize his voice via myriad silly physical exercises, and one memorable scene features Colin Firth shouting surprising sets of very British profanities.

And the dialogue is sharp. When Elizabeth first describes her husband as unable to change jobs, Lionel asks, “What is he, an indentured servant?” She smiles and responds, “Something like that.”

The other half of The King’s Speech strikes a deeply heartfelt note. Colin Firth has so mastered the process of stunting, losing and finding his speech that watching George try to tell the story of his life is heart-wrenching — a sentence can take minutes. Here, the silly methods become poignant. Using singing to create a flow in his language, George’s saddest memories are confessed in song. Knowing the adversity he faces, by the end of the film, a new appreciation is built around the ability to simply speak.