Colin Firth is one of those character actors that some audiences might not know by name, but he always leaves an impression as you walk out of the theater. Through Bridget Jones's Diary and the television miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice, Firth has established that no actor working in movies today is more gifted in portraying charmingly befuddled men. In a sense he's kind of like Hugh Grant, only with range as an actor. Last year the Academy honored him with a Best Actor nomination for A Single Man. Firth might have lost that award to Jeff Bridges for his brilliant performance in Crazy Heart, but with The King's Speech, Firth outdoes himself in a performance that should engrave him as an Oscar-winner.
Firth plays Albert Frederick Arthur George, or Bertie as his family called him, the man that would one day rule England as King George VI. When King George V passes, his eldest son, Prince Edward, is to inherit the throne. Edward relinquishes the title, though, so he may marry his twice-divorced mistress. George VI is next in line to govern England. He is unconfident in his ability to rule, however, due to his speech impediment. Simply maintaining a conversation with another human being is a struggle for the stuttering George VI. When he has to make a speech in front of his pupils in the film's uncomfortable opening scene, he can barely utter more than two words at a time.
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, George's loving and fiercely dedicated wife played by Helena Bonham Carter, encourages her husband to consult a speech therapist. She drags him to an Australian therapist named Lionel Logue, played by the always entertaining Geoffrey Rush. George is at first reluctant to accept counsel from Logue. The fact that the therapist casually refers to him as "Bertie" only makes George VI more uncomfortable. But after successfully completing a monologue without stammering through a musical exercise, George VI is given little choice but to continue seeing Logue.
The focal point of the movie is the friendship between King George and Logue. Firth and Rush are both at the top of their game as they exemplify one of the most intriguing student teacher relationships ever depicted on film. The fact that the student happens to be the King of England only makes the relationship even more fascinating and poignant.
Another significant relationship is between King George and Elizabeth. Carter plays a key role here as the women who unconditionally loves her awkward husband and raises him up when he doesn't believe in himself. Two other principle people in King George's life are his daughters, Margaret and Elizabeth, the future Queen of England. Toward the beginning of the movie we see George VI being playful with his children, imitating a penguin as he tells them a story. When his daughters first see him dressed in regal attire, though, they bow down and address him as "Your Majesty." Nevertheless, King George still prefers the customary hug from his daughters. All of these people contribute to providing the insecure King George VI the confidence to not only overcome his stammer, but to also accept his royal duties.
David Seidler, whose only previous credits have included television movies and mediocre animated features such as Quest For Camelot and The King and I, wrote the film. He has developed an original screenplay of unparallel wit and engaging dialogue. Long stretches of the film take place in one setting, typically with only two or three people sustaining a discussion. In the hands of Director Tom Hooper, though, The King's Speech never feels like a stage production clumsily transferred to the screen. Rather, he supplies the film with the same epic scope that he brought to the HBO miniseries, John Adams. Together, Hooper and Seidler have made a film that is both wildly absorbing and entertaining in its portrayal of a lesser-known piece of history and one of the most charming friendships of recent memory.