THE KING’S SPEECH (Tom Hooper, 2010)

Since childhood, Albert—“Bertie”—has stammered and stuttered. Engaged by his wife, Elizabeth, Australian-born therapist Lionel Logue endeavors to correct this, over time, in idiosyncratic sessions with the royal client, who is second in line of succession. In 1936, his father dies; when his brother abdicates to marry divorcée Wallis Simpson, Bertie becomes Britain’s King George VI. The title of The King’s Speech refers generally to the protagonist’s impeded speech and, specifically, to his speech—the 1939 radio address—informing his nation they are at war with Hitler’s Germany.
     Early on suggesting Shaw’s Pygmalion and, later, at least the atmospherics of Chariots of Fire (Hugh Hudson, 1981), with also an indefinable echo of Anastasia (Anatole Litvak, 1956), The King’s Speech was directed without distinction by television’s Tom Hooper, who nevertheless won an Oscar—as indeed did the film itself, despite its being old-fashioned, stilted, uninteresting. Paradoxically, the whole thing is garishly underlit; a musty dimness challenges the viewer’s sight both indoors and out-. (The color cinematographer is Danny Cohen.) The original screenplay is by David Seidler, himself a boyhood stutterer. Seidler also won an Oscar, and other prizes, for his minimal effort.
     But nobody else won as many prizes, again including an Oscar, than the film’s star, Colin Firth. The arrogant, frustrated, cruelly quick-tempered character that Firth plays requires great acting to show, as Firth does not, how this could co-exist with the appreciative spouse and adoring father that the role also reveals. (A little daughter is the future Elizabeth II.) Firth’s blatant performance is a hodge-podge, not a delicately gauged, fully integrated thing. However, Geoffrey Rush, not normally among my favorites, is splendid as Lionel Logue.
     Goodness knows why this film trashes Wallis Simpson. Let’s hope it isn’t because she is an American.

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