The main accomplishment of The King’s Speech is that it takes Grade A Oscar fodder – the true story of England’s King George VI and his struggle to overcome a speech impediment – and makes it not only tolerable, but enjoyable.
It’s a shock that it took the Oscarmongers at The Weinstein Company this long to develop a story of such tailor-made uplift. King George – known to his family as Bertie – is content to stay on the sidelines, and indeed has been put there by his domineering father and playboy older brother. But after his father dies and his brother abdicates the throne (he’d rather pursue marriage with a twice-divorced American), Bertie has the monarchy thrust upon him.
Colin Firth, as Bertie, gives the sort of technically elaborate performance that causes Oscar statues to do flips of joy (think of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man). He stammers with admirable precision. Only slightly less theatrical is Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the unconventional speech therapist who finally helps Bertie overcome the insecurity that lies at the heart of his speaking troubles. And just in time too. The way the movie arranges things, King George finds his confidence right before a stirring radio address on the eve of World War II.
That speech is nicely handled by director Tom Hooper, who also captures the way radio – amusingly referred to as “the wireless” here – revolutionized the world, including politics. Throwing a king who can’t talk onto the airwaves was the equivalent of giving a Twitter account to a politician who can’t text.
So The King’s Speech is steeped in historical detail, earns its feel-good moments honestly enough and is anchored by a pair of delightfully showy performances. Oh, and it’s British. Now wonder it won four Academy Awards.