There are at least two reasons why we haven't before heard the story that forms the basis of The King's Speech, the seemingly unlikely tale of an odd couple friendship between a king and a commoner: Enlgand's King George VI and his Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue. One reason is a promise made to the Queen Mother by the film's screenwriter David Seidler; the other the abdication scandal involving American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, which overlapped with the events told here.
When King Edward (Guy Pearce, almost bordering on caricature) abdicates the English throne in 1936, so he can marry Simpson (Eve Best), his younger brother Albert (Bertie to his family) ascends to the throne as King George VI. George (Colin Firth) isn't uncomfortable wearing the crown so much as the increased demand on him to speak publicly. Suffering as he does from an almost crippling stammer, it terrifies him.
We're well aware of this by the time the abdication occurs; the film opens with a painfully awkward public address by George. George's supportive wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), has sought out various specialists in speech therapy over the years to little or no success, until she happens upon Lionel Logue (Geofrrey Rush), a one-time Australian stage actor now practising speech therapist in London with unorthodox methods.
Logue also has little time for ceremony and a healthy dislike of authority. He agrees to take George on as his patient provided he attend sessions at his office, that they address each other as equals and his methods are not questioned. There's one or two false starts and it's not all smooth sailing, but it's the beginning of a beautiful, if unlikely, friendship which would last until King George's death in 1952.
The reason it took Seidler so long to bring his screenplay to the screen was a promise made to the Queen Mother that he would not do so until she had passed (in 2002, aged 101). Apparently the memories and emotions were still too fresh for the elderly widow.
Directed by Tom Hooper (who made last year's The Damned United, and the brilliant TV miniseries, John Adams), The King's Speech is a period drama that is neither stuffy nor all pomp and ceremony despite its regal setting. Hooper's very much concerned with the people, particularly George and Lionel, and he couldn't have asked for two better accomplices than Firth and Rush.
As a man born into privilege (and ultimately power) but stymied by his impediment, Firth never overplays the stammering (which could get old fast), and allows us to see the anger and anguish beneath the surface. Rush, who hasnt had this juicy a role in quite some time, goes toe-to-toe with Firth. He may be somewhat of a comic foil but he's also a man of convictions. He sees how good a king George can be and he'll push him as hard as he can until he does too.
"Why should I listen to you?" Rush's Logue asks the King during a heated exchange on the eve of his coronation. "Because I have a voice!" Firth replies. He may also have an Oscar come late February 2011; Rush, too, if the Academy is paying attention.