"The King's Speech" has become the leading film in the 2011 Academy Awards race, nominated for a striking total of twelve Oscars. Not only has it been nominated for best picture honors, but all three of the actors who spent the longest amount of time on screen- Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush- have nominations for acting honors. You may feel tempted to see for yourself what the fuss is all about. If so, here is a short review to help you decide if this is a good idea.
"The King's Speech" is a period film and a costume drama which is set in London in the 1930s. It is a British production which employs many of the finest living British actors. There are no car chases, no bullets are fired, nobody removes any clothing, and there are zero special effects. The essential plot involves a man who happens to be the son of the King, who suffers from the unfortunate condition of stuttering. His brother experiences an infatuation with Wallis Simpson, a divorced American woman who is considered totally unsuitable for marriage to a British Monarch, and consequently is forced to abdicate. The man becomes first in line for the Kingship- and then soon becomes King with the death of his father George V. Taking on the title of George VI, our lead character (played brilliantly by Colin Firth) finds himself in the horrible position of having to make public addresses with his stutter. It is the lead up to World War II, a titanic struggle for survival of the British nation and the British Commonwealth, threatened by Nazi Germany, and there is no way at all for the King to stay on the sidelines with his mouth shut.
This plot is by the way, based quite accurately on the real historical events of Britain in the 1930s. It all happened.
As the plot unfolds, an elaborate dance of trust and mistrust evolves between the King-to-be and a commoner from Australia played by Geoffrey Rush, who happens to be the best prospect for speech coaching to help the King make public addresses despite his severe impediment. This dance is fascinating partly because it brings in issues of class, but also because it is a deeply personal and individual conflict as the speech coach tries to involve the essential underlying issue of the King's psychological burden of having been a mistreated child who was never treated as a competent person- despite being in fact the most serious son of the King, and the one with the greatest desire to serve the nation. The King resists this, holding out for coaching on the mere mechanics of the problem- but he is in danger of having a friendship with a commoner, because it is obvious that the speech coach is a good guy. Supporting performances by Bonham-Carter who portrays the King's wife, and Jennifer Ehle who plays the speech coach's wife, are indispensable and excellent.
The only element in this fine film to justify the R rating is a great deal of adult language that is spoken in a humorous context, as the speech coach convinces the King that in his practice sessions he can overcome his stutter by use of singing the difficult phrases or using dirty words to keep talking. It works, and you will have a laugh as it cuts the tension of the scene. Other than that, no reason an eight year old would not want to see this film- although it does explore the non-sexual realities of adulthood in a way that may be above the interest level of some children.
Is this film as good as the Oscar nomination total would have us believe? In the mind of this reviewer, yup it is. But as stated, this film would not delight every viewer, as the action in it is action of the mind and of the heart. If that sounds good to you, go see it while it is still in a theater. It has some of the best acting you will ever see.