Directed by Tom Hooper
Known as “Bertie” by his family, the royal prince needs to overcome his stigma about public speaking, being that it’s part of his position, and his loving and supportive wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) does her best to find him the best therapist. She ultimately arrives at an eccentric Australian named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) whose unconventional methods involve a combination of physical training and therapy. Having already been prodded and poked for months, Albert is reticent to give Logue a chance, and the Australian’s casual lack of respect for his patient’s position immediately puts the Duke on edge. Meanwhile, Albert’s brother David (Guy Pearce) has been cavorting with a married woman, something that doesn’t bode well for his future as the King, despite being the next in line.
So many British actors have played royalty whether it’s on stage doing Shakespeare or the many films involving the monarchy. This is quite a departure for Firth to turn off his eloquence and charm in order to play a role that runs the gamut of emotions from reserved introspection to outright anger. The most obvious difference is that Firth does something quite unique with his voice, raising it half an octave to something that’s not particularly soothing nor as commanding as one might expect from a royal heir.
The conflict between Lionel’s impertinence and Bertie’s obstinance makes every scene between Firth and Geoffrey Rush immensely enjoyable, the two actors being so well-paired with Rush bringing humor to every line even during some of the most poignant moments. The film flows effortlessly though Bertie’s struggles to overcome the obstacles he’s built around himself to avoid dealing with what caused his stammer in the first place. One particularly telling scene involves Albert’s father, played by Michael Gambon, pushing his son to “try harder” as he tries to teach him how to give a speech. Things take a dramatic turn when Albert’s father passes away, forcing him to trust Lionel as his confidante. As Bertie opens up to Lionel, we learn that his impediment grew out of his poor treatment as a child and the mocking he’d been forced to endure from his father and brother ever since.
Working from a fantastic script by David Seidler, director Tom Hooper shows immense improvement over his previous feature film “The Damned United,” working with a crew that realizes that the script and cast are strong enough that they don’t need to do anything too flashy, essentially creating an authentic environment to let the actors do their thing.
As much as the movie is about the relationship between two men from different walks of life, the rest of the cast greatly adds to every scene. Helena Bonham Carter, a natural to play Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, brings a calming charm and wit to every scene, particularly those in which she admonishes Logue for his behavior. Other nice surprises include an appearance by Tim Spall as Winston Churchill and Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop, part of Albert’s cabinet of advisors who have very little confidence in him running the country, something that just adds more pressures.
There are so many wonderful individual scenes, but they’re pulled together with a somewhat expected bookend as Bertie, now the King of England, must let his people know that the country is heading off to war and we’re left on the edge of our seat wondering if he can pull it off with Lionel almost conducting him as he reads through the nearly nine-minute speech.
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