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THE KING'S SPEECH (2010) (***1/2)

Albert was not born with a stammer, but developed one around four or five. He was born a prince. The former creates a great problem for the latter when public speaking is key to the job he was born to do. Making matters worse, he was prince during the boom of wireless radio and disturbing times with an older brother that had little interest in being king. He would become King George VI.

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Albert was not born with a stammer, but developed one around four or five. He was born a prince. The former creates a great problem for the latter when public speaking is key to the job he was born to do. Making matters worse, he was prince during the boom of wireless radio and disturbing times with an older brother that had little interest in being king. He would become King George VI.

Colin Firth plays Albert, or Bertie as his family knew him. Inside Bertie was very capable of being a great king, but the stutter made him sound like a fool. His father King George V (Michael Gambon, HARRY POTTER) lorded over him with an iron fist and had no time for his "problems." His brother Edward (Guy Pearce, MEMENTO) was a globetrotting party boy right up until the moment his father died. He was not capable of being a great king. He wanted what he wanted and gave up the crown to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Eve Best, TV's NURSE BETTY). Now Bertie wasn't just a stammering prince, but a stammering king, the only king to ever take the throne with the previous king still alive and well. This kind of pressure didn't help his stutter.

Before he was thrust into the limelight, he tried every speech therapist in England. Then his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, SWEENEY TODD) found the unorthodox counselor Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush, SHINE), who has steadfast rules even for princes. Clients must come to the office and in the room they are equals. At first, Bertie defiantly insisted that he was there only to treat the stammer and not interested in getting to the psychological underpinnings of the problem. He talked to no one about his feelings, not even his wife. It seems he was still the bullied little boy only trapped in an adult body.

Director Tom Hopper (THE DAMNED UNITED), working from a script by David Seidler (QUEST FOR CAMELOT), mounts a crowd-pleasing drama that is infused with the right dose of humor. Take notice to the scene where Lionel's wife finally finds out whom his secret client is. The opening sequence where the prince must speak on the radio to a stadium of people is torturous. His stutter echoing across the arena only making it more pronounced. He is angry about the problem and the weight that is on his shoulders. Lionel allows him to express that angry in sessions. He doesn't stutter when he's cursing like a merchant marine. Eventually Bertie opens up and reveals abuses that would be shocking in any home let alone the royal family.

Firth is magnificent as a man who must fight embarrassment every time he opens his mouth. He makes Bertie a complex man who is internally battling with himself at all times. One moment he has great strength and the next he's afraid of his own shadow as Lionel says. It almost seems cliché already to say that he needs to find his voice. Rush's Lionel helps him do that. Logue is the exact opposite of Bertie. He came from nothing, a transplant from Australia, but he is profoundly confident, but also keenly kind. Rush makes him a man completely comfortable in his own skin… even when he's giving less than stellar stage performances of Richard III.

The film does a very good job of placing us in the shoes of King George VI. The world is being overrun by the likes of Hitler and Stalin. His brother is flying all over the world without a care about England's future under his rule. His father then thrusts all the responsibility on him. How are you supposed to lead a nation out of a dark time, if you can't even get a word out?

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Rick DeMott
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