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Friday, April 8, 2011

THE KING'S SPEECH -- DVD review by porfle

I didn't know if I was actually going to like THE KING'S SPEECH (2010) or if it was just one of those movies that you're supposed to like.  What I really didn't expect was that it would not only tell such a warm and personal story but also blindside me with the kind of genuine and well-earned emotional reaction which brings on the waterworks. 

The story of any stammerer trying to overcome his affliction might make for a moving story, but here we see it at its worst with Albert, the Duke of York and eventual heir to the throne of England (Colin Firth), prodded into the public eye and forced to reveal his inability to speak before a packed Wembley Stadium and a radio audience of millions.  This early scene is one which anyone who's ever had a fear of public speaking can identify with as Albert struggles through his agonizing ordeal.

With the prodding of his sweetly supportive wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), Bertie seeks help from an eccentric speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) whose methods are unconventional but effective.  Logue relates to Bertie with a familiarity and intimacy that shocks the future king at first, but eventually persuades him to dredge up painful memories that get to the root causes for his stammering.

These include his frightfully overbearing father, King George V (Michael Gambon), and irresponsible older brother Edward (Guy Pearce), who will sacrifice the throne for love and force Bertie to take his place.  To complicate things even more, England is on the brink of war with Germany and needs a strong, confident leader to rally behind--one who can speak well enough to help bolster the nation's resolve. 

Colin Firth plays Bertie with such wounded desperation, his face always haunted by fear, that we sympathize with him even when he uses his royal aloofness as a defensive mechanism.  It's his lack of genuine arrogance--he doesn't want to be a king, just a Naval officer--that helps make him endearing, especially when he finally breaks down from the pressure. 

Logue, then, comes across as nothing less than Bertie's savior, but a wonderfully humble and unassuming one as warmly portrayed by Geoffrey Rush.  A happy family man with a zest for life, Logue helps Bertie better understand the common man from whom he's always been insulated.  More importantly, he offers him something he's never known before, which is simple friendship.  This is what makes the story so heartwarming and, ultimately, emotionally cathartic.


The impeccable production design and Tom Hooper's interesting direction emphasize the intimidating, vertigo-inducing, and emotionally cold atmosphere in which Bertie has always existed.  This is well contrasted with the warmer and more intimate surroundings of Lionel and his family, where the future king eventually begins to find respite. 

Performances are uniformly fine, although Timothy Spall's take on Winston Churchill struck me as a bit of a caricature.  Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth and Guy Pearce as Edward are excellent, as are Claire Bloom as Queen Mary and Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop.  A sensitive score by Alexandre Desplat is augmented by some well-chosen classical pieces, particularly the second movement of Beethoven's 7th Symphony which is used to great effect.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include a director's commentary, a "making of" featurette, a Q & A session with director and cast, a conversation with Logue's grandson (who discovered Logue's invaluable personal diaries), and two actual radio speeches by the real King George VI.  

The climax of the film is the King's 1939 radio speech announcing Britain's impending war with Germany, through which Logue guides him like a symphony conductor.  After all the suspense, this sequence beautifully juxtaposes Bertie confronting his greatest fear with the solemn faces of his listeners who, facing an uncertain future, are hanging on his every word for moral support.  If a film can make me cry, I've always felt, then it must be doing something right.  And so, especially in these last moments, THE KING'S SPEECH seems to be doing something very right indeed.

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