This movie is about a king’s triumph over the embarrassment of his speech impediment and makes for a very entertaining and inspiring story. That George the Sixth could overcome his childhood traumas (comparable to no less than shell shock)), his speech impediment, and the crippling fear of public speaking, which is the number one fear of most movie goers, is a royal achievement that we can all feel good about. If you like this movie, or want to like this movie, you might not want to read the the paragraphs that follow.
At the end of “The King’s Speech”, my wife marveled at the ironic life of the royals. They live in opulence and luxury not given freely. Those few of royal blood must sacrifice their freedom and happiness to sit upon the throne. Think of how Diana was hounded by the tabloid press, to her death, long her status as princess ended. Compared to life in the 21st Century, George the Sixth had it easy. All he had to deal with was radio. Had he lived today, his every mis-utterance would be recorded by cell phone and broadcast across the world. Then again, had George the Sixth lived today, he might not have faced the psychological trauma in his childhood that led to his stuttering. Compared to the barbarians of the late 19th and early 20th century, we modern people are much kinder and gentler toward shy lefties.
Because we are so moved by George’s triumph over his fear of public speaking, the one fear that most of us share, we find it fitting that after his first successful speech, his Australian elocution coach, his family, his subjects, and even Winston Churchill cheer him on. Yet I was thinking of how small all that was considering the setting. England had just entered World War II. London would be destroyed in the Battle of Britain. The English forces in Europe would be decimated at Dunkirk, those returning to England in defeat lucky to to be alive. England would lose its empire and end the war as an impoverished starving nation. They way everyone carried on at the end of the film, you would think George’s speech won the whole damn war
This film reminds me of another recent historical dramas that was overshadowed by historical events. “Frost/Nixon”, for example, is set up as an epic interaction between an Australian and a ruler. Wait, am I confusing “Frost/Nixon” with “The King’s Speech”? Oh, that’s right, the ruler in “Frost/Nixon” is former president Richard Nixon and the Australian is television personality David Frost. We are led to believe the admissions of guilt that Frost coaxes out of Nixon is enough drama for an entire movie. “All the President’s Men”, which by the way is about only the very beginnings of the criminal investigation into Richard Nixon, is enough drama for an entire movie. “Frost/Nixon” is barely enough drama for 40 minutes of television. Nevertheless, “Frost/Nixon” and movies like it are entertaining enough and profitable enough to get made. That is how I feel about “The King’s Speech” only instead of being entertaining enough, “The King’s Speech” is awesomely entertaining.
Objectively, “The King’s Speech” could have been better had the filmmakers flipped the focus from the putative king to his Australian elocutionist, played by Geoffrey Rush. Performance is not the issue. The king was played exquisitely by Colin Firth, who most of know as the guy Bridget Jones chose over Hugh Grant. Mr. Firth deserves every ounce of his Oscar for his performance but the king himself is quite boring. He seems friendly enough and like I wrote above everyone can empathize with his fear of public speaking. The king, though, was born to his duties. We are just watching him going through the motions. The Australian elocutionist on the other hand, is a man who made his own life and helped give voice to the voiceless. Plus, the elocutionist was played by Geoffrey Rush, an actor so popular that Disney brought his character back from the dead for its “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. Perhaps highlighting Colin Firth’s character is all in good fairness. Mr. Rush already had his time to “Shine”. Just imagine though, a story about an average actor who teaching elocution to kids, performs miracles for Great War vets, and saves England from the terrible speeches of its boorish king. And that is about all I had better write about that.