When it was released at the beginning of 2011, The King’s Speech was a somewhat unknown quantity. It seemed to be another British historical piece with a good cast and a healthy dollop of patriotic jingoism that would carry it to moderate success at the box office. Imagine the audiences surprise when they sat down and so a simmering epic character piece, with one of the most astonishing performances by an actor whose career had always threatened to explode but had never taken that final step.
Prince Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth) the second son to reigning monarch King George V (Michael Gambon), has a speech problem that causes him to stammer. A serious problem for a Royal whose role involves public speaking. After a scandal involving his elder brother King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) and his American socialite lover, Albert finds himself the next successor to the throne. With war looming in Europe, Albert realises that he needs to learn how to speak without stammering, so along with his wife Elizabeth, Duchess of York (Helena Bonham-Carter) hires Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to help him become the King that Great Britain needs him to be.
The setup of The King’s Speech is reasonably epic in its potential impact, especially with the looming threat of the Second World War on the horizon throughout, but the true strength of The King’s Speech is, ironically, in its dialogue. For a story about the inability to speak, every word in David Siedler’s screenplay is precise and crisp. Nothing is wasted and Firth’s award-winning turn is handled with such talent, that you can’t help but wonder why he hasn’t won a golden statuette before.
At it’s core, The King’s Speech is a bromance. The interchanges between the excellent Rush and the incredible Firth drag what could’ve so easily been a by-the-numbers drama into the realm of a classic. There’s moments of drama, tenderness and true comedy. While the jokes are sometimes sparse and subtle, they stand against drama so wonderfully that they give the audience something to really laugh at. It’s risky to put comedy in such a dramatic subject, but it pays off perfectly in small doses.
The structure of The King’s Speech plays a lot like a sports film. There is a plucky underdog thrown into a high-profile situation, who must overcome a serious defect to take home glory in the final act. The difference here is that, it’s not a sport, it’s a speech and the glory isn’t a cup, it’s the ability to calm the nerves of a fraught nation.