The King’s Speech is an engaging account of the speech impediment that King George VI suffered from and the Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue, who successfully treated him for it. The acting is outstanding; Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are excellent as the King and Lionel, while Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce illuminate the roles of the Queen consort, Elizabeth, and Edward VIII, the predecessor to George VI.
The film opens with a speech the protagonist made in 1925 at Wembley Stadium, when he was the Duke of York. In a time when attitudes to the monarch were rather different, the crowd is clearly bothered by his awkward stammering. The conclusion of the film depicts his successful address to the Empire upon the declaration of war with Germany, for which he receives resounding applause. Lionel Logue not only treats the King’s stammer, but also becomes his first friend and it is this relationship that establishes the heart of this film.
Not once throughout the film is the protagonist the subject of propensity or respect merely by virtue of his office; for Lionel and Elizabeth, each of who make it clear that they have little regard for whatever title the King might hold, the affection they have for him is a part of their personal relationships with him. In regard to the public, whose “God save the King” placards are interpreted by the King as a reference to his better-loved predecessor, the relationship they have with the King is one of apathy until they come to appreciate the innate qualities he has as were manifest in his successful concluding speech.
As the protagonist’s ability to speak improves, his sense of alienation from his world diminishes. He remarks to Lionel that he finds it disturbing how little the average man knows of him and how little he knows of the average man, and Tom Hooper’s use of a fisheye lens contributes to this alienation the King describes. The applause scene that concludes the film is evidence enough of the end of this troubling emotion that had heretofore stricken his countenance and a relief for the audience, who have experienced his suffering throughout the film.
The King’s Speech portrays the unusual and oftentimes uncertain relationship between the King and Lionel in a masterful manner and conveys the emotions of the characters superbly. Despite the thematic and character-based triumphs, much of what can best be appreciated about this film are the details: singular lines of dialogue or the use of Gill Sans to produce a typically British appearance. What is most disappointing, perhaps, is some unfortunate set design and the fact that it is less consistent with matters of royal protocol than many other recent films. All in all, however, it is a fascinating and highly recommended film.