(Viewed in theater)
Being an American stories that try and make me sympathetic for British royalty pretty much fall flat. I tend to see such subjects as privileged, working class-crushing symbols of English societal ignorance and, indeed, that’s mostly the perception set forth in The King’s Speech. Yet the story that quickly evolves touches on the universal theme of self-realization supported by strong interpersonal friendship, seemingly eliminating the barrier between its two main characters’ class roles.
Colin Firth is exceptional as the man who would not want to be king, King George VI. He’s clearly not the favorite son, that role taken by his spoiled, demanding brother Edward (Guy Pearce). He also has a very distinct, obstructive stutter, making him an embarrassment to the family and trying the patience of all who have to endure any of his public speaking commitments.
Dragged along by a very supportive, realistic but optimistic wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) - she seems to carry more of the stereotypical Britsh grit and determinism than anyone else in the royal family - he reluctantly begins working with a very unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush - again, outstanding). The film follows their professional and personal relationship as it develops, the king’s temper balanced and sometimes encouraged by Logue’s pragmatic and steady presence. And as the royal family life is thrown into upheaval through death, abdication and war King George VI is able to find his own voice of resilience and steadiness as he improves his studder and public speaking.
Perhaps the best story that comes through in The King’s Speech
is this establishment of self that doesn’t come at the cost of anyone else but, rather, is because of the love and support of those closest. An early shot sets this up as Elizabeth is searching for Logue’s offices in a dense London fog. Later, after the king and Logue’s relationship has emboldened the latter to “speak above his station,” the two have a volatile, pivotal conversation while walking in a park. The fog is very present but has to share space with the open sky. And, by the end, after the king has delivered an important radio address - with Logue’s tender accompanying presence - announcing that they are at war with Nazi Germany, he and his family greet the public with nothing but open skies above.
The motivation here is moving outside oneself and doing something great that you most likely don’t want to do but that no one else actually can do. It’s an endearing tale of struggle using very unlikely participants to speak to the human condition of the doubts and fears and factors that would keep us forever in that dense fog. Finding one’s own voice in the midst of turmoil and rising above such circumstances is a strong message, speaking to the better parts of our human-ness. And, here, it’s delivered via exceptional performances that earn your sympathy and, for me, overcame my own preconceptions quite nicely.