Stammering is a pretty common speech defect, and for most people it doesn't have earthshattering consequences. But for one man, it might have. "The King's Speech" chronicles the true-life story of King George VI's struggle to gain the confidence to lead his nation -- a powerful, tensely-written movie, with some truly brilliant performances.
For many years, Prince Albert (Colin Firth) dreaded any kind of public speaking because of his crippling stammer. So his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter) drags him to a speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who gives him vocal and physical exercises. Logue also learns more about "Bertie's" psyche -- his sensitivity, his low self-esteem, and his fears that he will let down his country.
And Bertie has never needed help so badly -- his father is dying, his older brother David is too obsessed with his married lover to care about "kinging," and World War II is fast approaching. And when the throne is handed to Bertie, Logue must help him get through his coronation, and a vital speech announcing the beginning of the war.
"The King's Speech" takes place on two very different levels. On one hand, it's about an underappreciated prince's rise to become king just before World War II, and the events that led to it. On the other, it's about one man slowly learning to overcome his fear with the help of a friend.
Director Tom Hooper really knows to create powerful drama even from seemingly small things, and to evoke strong emotions from the simplest scenes. There are some lighter moments (the hysterical scene where Bertie runs around shouting four-letter words) and some glimpses of Bertie and Lionel's lives with their families.
But the strength of this movie lies in the gut-wrenching scenes where Bertie's therapy is put to the test. We see him struggling to speak to his own brother, and it's genuinely saddening when he crumbles into tongue-tied misery... just as it's uplifting when he manages to speak clearly and with earnestness.
And since the movie is all about the king, a brilliant lead actor is absolutely essential. Firth is absolutely perfect -- nervous, fearful, stiff, quick-tempered, and always choking on his own words. And you can see how desperate he is to help his nation. And he has a sort of prickly chemistry with Rush, whose energetic, earnest therapist helps Bertie break out of his shell.
Bonham-Carter gives a lovely smaller performance as the future Queen Mum, a lady with a steel spine who seems to be propping up her husband until he can stand on his own. And there are great smaller performances by Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Jennifer Ehle, and Guy Pearce (as spoiled man-child David).
"The King's Speech" is all about one man helping another overcome his fear, and the world-changing consequences. It's powerful, vivid and beautiful.