Dir. Tom Hooper. UK. 2010.

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Unorthodox therapies led by practitioners who produce outstanding results but do not have an academic background or society's seal of approval are mostly shunned by the public. Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), however, an unlicensed speech therapist from Australia who uses unorthodox methods proves extremely valuable in his attempt to help King George VI of England overcome a serious stammer in Tom Hooper's highly entertaining The King's Speech. Based on a true story, the film, written by veteran screenwriter David Seidler, breaks no new grounds stylistically but has a substantial core of truth that overcomes the limitations of its genre and makes it not only an engaging experience that is full of wit, but also one that is quite moving. 

Colin Firth, in a performance certain to be nominated for an Oscar, is a sympathetic king even for those who dislike the monarchy. The film opens when King George V (Michael Gambon) asks his second son (Firth), designated as Prince Albert and made Duke of York in 1920, to deliver a speech at the 1925 British Empire Exhibition. Because of the Duke's speech impediment which he has suffered with since he was five years old, the results are acutely embarrassing. Aware that leadership in the age of the wireless requires the ability to communicate clearly, Prince Albert and his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) seek out a speech disorder practitioner to try and overcome the problem. 

After unsuccessfully going through some professionals, Elizabeth takes her husband to see Lionel Logue, a speech therapist from Australia who lacks academic credentials but who has been highly recommended. The heart of the film is the developing relationship between Lionel and the Duke of York. Lionel is a charming rascal who from the start sets up a situation of equality, telling the Duke that he will call him Bertie and he is to call him Lionel. “My game, my rules”, he asserts. Though their relationship gets off to a rocky start, it is fun watching their friendship develop through many shouting matches. When the duke says "you're peculiar," Logue says, "I take that as a compliment." 

Because Lionel believes that behind Bertie's stammering lies a lifetime of fear and has its roots in emotional decisions made many years ago, he probes the Duke's family life and his relationship with his father and brothers until Bertie storms out of their first meeting in a panic. After listening to a record of his own voice that Lionel made while orchestral music was being played, however, Bertie concludes that Lionel's methods may indeed work to help him find his own voice. On his return visit, the therapist leads him through shouting obscenities, singing popular songs like Swanee River, and engaging in physical movements to help him release years of emotional repression. 

Lionel seems to have a visceral understanding of what Bertie is capable of, even though he knows that it may require a long time to achieve it. When the Duke gets in touch with the humiliation he experienced from his father, his brother Edward (Guy Pearce), and his nannies, the patient and the therapist become friends and openly share their life with each other. His life, however, takes a sudden turn. Less than a year after his brother assumes the throne as King Edward VIII, he abdicates in order to marry Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), and the Duke of York is reluctantly sworn in as King George VI. It is a time of great peril as Hitler's armies are in full training for all out war with Europe. 

Through his one-on-one work with Lionel, Bertie begins to believe in himself and his ability to communicate. This confidence is sorely tested, however, when the new king must deliver a reassuring address to the people of England in 1939 after the country has declared war on Germany. With Logue's strong assistance, the music of Beethoven, and the steady direction of Hooper, the ending eschews false uplift and becomes a genuinely human document that allows us to realize, in the words of Anis Nin that, "Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."


Howard Schumann

Also see Daniel Sarath's review of The King's Speech

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