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The King’s Speech

The film:  [rating: 3/5]

Colin Firth: [rating: 4.5/5]

Colin Firth turns in a great performance in “The King’s Speech.”     He is Prince Albert, the second son of King George V.  His father’s health is failing and his older brother, played by Guy Pearce, is cavorting with an American divorcee (tsk, tsk.)  He is the good son, the responsible one in the family, but he has one major fault; he speaks with a terrible stammer, and no speech therapist trick seems to help.

Everything is wrapped up in Firth’s performance here.   And while it’s clearly Oscar bait (it is, after all, an A-list actor playing a character with a disability; a certain speech from “Tropic Thunder” comes to mind) Firth brings a great deal of believable complexity to his character;  he is frustrated and angry, self-effacing and fearful, bold and bashful, all in turns.   Most of all, he presents with a man we instinctively like and want to see overcome his difficulties and seize his destiny.

Geoffrey Rush is the speech therapist who finally is able to help him.   How he helps him isn’t exactly clear; he asks him uncomfortable questions, calls him “Bertie” and encourages him to cuss and sing, and befriends him.   Maybe that’s enough, though I hear real speech therapists out there laughing into their sleeves.   I can’t help but feel that Rush falls into a long line of unconventional pseudo-authority figures – from Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting” to Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music” — who, mostly by power of personality, change the lives of those around them.  He’s not a terribly interesting character, and doesn’t do much to set himself apart from others like him.

Which is why “The King’s Speech” really needs the luminous, complicated performance of Firth in order to work.   An awful lot is glossed over in the script and direction.    Notably, “Speech” never addresses the question of the relevance of royalty in the 20th century Britain.  We believe that England needs a king who can give speeches without really considering why that’s a necessary thing.  When Pearce is gallavanting around, there’s some fear expressed that England may decide it doesn’t need a king; after all, monarchies are falling all around them.    Firth, indeed, says some not very nice things about proletariats and “commoners.”   But this issue never really comes to a point; we never question the validity of our hero’s quest.   Firth’s charisma carries everything; as I said before, we are so convinced that he’s a good guy, we are so invested in his success, that questions about his usefulness and the relevance of his title just never seem that compelling, and even a little mean-spirited to consider.  With a lesser actor in the role, I might’ve felt differently, and indeed, been quite indifferent to the very climax of the film.    But I like Colin Firth.   I hope he wins the Oscar for this performance.

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