Oscar®Oscar® winner for Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Actor in a leading role, Best Original Screenplay • Nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Actor in a supporting role, Best Actress in a supporting role, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Music original score, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Art Direction
Movie Review

The King’s Speech

MPAA Rating: R for some language.

Note: A later edited version of this film (2011) removed some of the language mentioned in this review, and is rated PG-13 for language.

Reviewed by: Jim O'Neill
CONTRIBUTOR

Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Biography History Drama
Length:
1 hr. 51 min.
Year of Release:
2010
USA Release:
November 26, 2010
DVD: April 19, 2011
Copyright, The Weinstein Company click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, The Weinstein Company Copyright, The Weinstein Company Copyright, The Weinstein Company Copyright, The Weinstein Company
Relevant Issues
Copyright, The Weinstein Company

FEAR, Anxiety and Worry… What does the Bible say? Answer

ROYALTY of the Bible: kings / queens / princes

Featuring: Colin Firth (King George VI), Helena Bonham Carter (Queen Elizabeth), Michael Gambon (King George V), Guy Pearce (King Edward VIII), Geoffrey Rush (Lionel Logue), more »
Director: Tom Hooper—“John Adams” (TV mini-series)
Producer: See Saw Films, Bedlam Productions, Paul Brett, more »
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

“When God couldn’t save the King, the Queen turned to someone who could.”

“The King’s Speech” is the story of an unlikely friendship. The setting is England in the 1930s. The film’s final scene takes place on Christmas Day, 1939 when King George VI delivers a holiday greeting to his subjects over the airwaves (that tradition began with his father, George V and continues today with his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II). There was little reason to be festive at the close of 1939. Germany had just invaded Poland, and England was about to enter World War II. Before that fateful year, the English seemed adrift and without a leader who could guide them through the coming storm. The Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, the so-called “peace in our time” document. King George V had died, and his son, David, the future King Edward VIII, was next in line to succeed him.

David abdicated his title in order to marry the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. The two married and became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Their affair was, and I believe still is, referred to as the “romance of the century”. Edward VIII’s brother Albert, the Duke of York, was brought to the throne and crowned King George VI. Albert never planned to be king. He was content to let his brother have the limelight, especially since Albert was handicapped by a stammer that rendered him incapable of communicating with his subjects.

The film is a sometimes heartbreaking, often funny, and always intelligent portrait of a man who struggles to overcome internal demons at a time when his country readies itself to fight external ones. “The King’s Speech” is a personal story and a historical one. The two blend perfectly in what is the best movie of this year, and probably one of the best dramatizations ever made of an episode in history.

I haven’t felt the same kind of exhilaration from watching a British film since I saw “Cavalcade” many years ago. “Cavalcade” (directed by Frank Lloyd and written by Noel Coward and Reginald Berkeley) was made in 1933, and it also covers British history; there are some great World War I scenes and a quite memorable scene aboard the Titanic; and its story coincidentally ends not long before the events in “The King’s Speech” begin.

Tom Hooper directs his movie in a concise and constrained way. He has a delicate, even polite, touch. It’s certainly a British film, but it’s not done in the stodgy Masterpiece Theater style of a lot of English period pieces, and it doesn’t attempt to be the kind of sweeping epic that David Lean used to make. It takes us back in time, and yet it has an immediacy that makes us feel as though what we’re watching could be happening today. He was able to do the same thing with “John Adams,” the television series he directed for HBO, but he’s done a better job with this feature film. Time and budget constraints do have their upsides.

King George (Colin Firth) has a terrible time speaking in public. He cannot read a speech without stuttering over almost every word, to the dismay of his audience, his family and himself. His stern father, George V (Michael Gambon) has no patience for his son’s handicap, and his polished but vapid brother, David (Guy Pearce), teases him mercilessly. George has a good relationship with his daughters, the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. He doesn’t stutter as much when he is in their company.

His wife, Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), looks for a therapist to cure her husband’s handicap. The Royal Family have tried a number of them, but all were unable to stay the stammer. She finds an unorthodox tutor named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a would-be actor whose day job is helping vocally handicapped people find their voice. He agrees to accept her husband as a patient, but the sessions must be conducted on Logue’s terms. He does not refer to his student as “Your Majesty”; he dares to call the King by his nickname, Bertie.

Bertie is not amused. It is difficult for the King to accept this unorthodox student teacher relationship at first, but the bond between the two grows, and a friendship develops. They warm to each other over time, but they also clash, and those clashes have real teeth. A delicate balance is hard to achieve between the royal and the commoner. The relationship is more often indelicate, but it has all the ups and downs that real friends, ones who know and understand each other, go through all the time. Strengths and weaknesses get gauged; boundaries get set and get stepped over; hurt and resentment are expressed openly, while devotion and gratitude are more often held back.

Whereas George is a reluctant monarch, who is not just wary of the spotlight, but lives in abject fear of it, Lionel craves the attention and applause that he has always found elusive. In straining for recognition, he sometimes overreaches and offends his often touchy and temperamental student. He gets a bit too familiar at times, as when he tells Bertie that he might make a better king than his brother, the rightful heir to the throne. Bertie dismisses Lionel’s remarks as “impertinence by a nobody”, a cruel rebuke to someone who desperately wants to be a somebody.

You would think that a series of speech exercises and verbal drills would sink a movie in short order. There are a lot of them, and they are silly, but not silly enough to keep you from getting a good laugh out of every one. The humor is subtle, but straight on, even when Lionel encourages His Royal Highness to use gutter words of the four-letter variety as a way to connect the words of a speech that he has a hard time getting out. This is why the film has an “R” rating. The language is offensive, and for that reason I wouldn’t recommend the film for children, but there is no gratuitous vulgarity, and I couldn’t help but let out a snicker or two, along with a gasp, when I listened to a member of the Royal Family say “bugger”. And worse.

The script by David Seidler is a marvel of equilibrium. It’s a serious story that takes place in serious times, but it’s full of fun stuff. The humor is understated, but incisive. Early on, Lionel asks the King to tell him a joke; the king responds: “Timing isn’t my strong suit”. The King watches Hitler giving a televised speech at the Nazi Party Congress in Nurenberg, and he says: “I can’t understand a word he’s saying, but he sure can speak”. Yes, you’re thinking, I guess you’d have to be there, and you’re right. I encourage you to be there, in the theater, taking in the many joys this film has to offer.

The filmmakers respect their audience; the drama and the humor are applied with a light brush and not with a heavy hammer. They allow us to fill in blanks and reach our own judgments about what we’re watching. It’s refreshing to see a director and a writer work with that kind of confidence in themselves and in their viewers. Their project gets considerable help from Alexandre Desplat’s stirring score and Eve Stewart’s apt production design, which is, in equal parts, stately and earthy, and in every way fitting.

The acting is splendid. Colin Firth shines as the accidental monarch who wants to stay in the background but understands that time and country and fate have chosen him, and he must accept their proposal with the grace of a true king. Firth gets you to respect the king’s courage, but he also makes you feel the monarch’s sweat and tears. Geoffrey Rush, as the king’s teacher, complements and equals Firth, but never does one actor outshine the other. The performances are perfectly matched; nobody runs off with the movie or so much as pinches a scene. Rush has some memorable moments of his own when he auditions for the lead in a two bit production of Richard III. His portrayal is awful in the audition, but Rush reveals Logue’s love for performing and his deep-seated need for acceptance and approval in a way that is not embarrassing or cloying. His rejection is not the end of his world. It’s merely a part of it.

Helena Bonham Carter plays George’s wife, Queen Elizabeth (we knew her in recent times as the Queen Mother) with enough wit to make her reserve and ritual look light-hearted and wry. She’s a tough cookie who serves up more spice than sugar. Carter creates a figure that is her husband’s match in strength and determination, a rock on whom her husband and her country can depend. The elder Queen Elizabeth has here been given her due after the unfair and tawdry portrait of her that was put forth in the 2006 film, “The Queen”.

In these days, when we think of royal figures as princesses of hearts or candles in the wind, it’s easy to forget how this woman’s fortitude helped to save a nation. Adolf Hitler called the senior Queen Elizabeth the most dangerous woman alive, because she was a model of the unbreakable British spirit during the dark days of the Battle of Britain. When the Queen was asked if she didn’t fear enough for her own daughters’ safety to accompany them out of England and away to safety she replied:

“The children will leave when I leave. I will leave when the King leaves. The King will never leave.”

The film ends with the King making his speech to the people of Imperial Britain, an empire that at that time still stretched around the world. Lionel Logue was at the King’s side when he made the speech. He told the king to say the words as if “you are saying them to me”. The King then stepped up to the microphone.

In his speech King George VI quotes from a poem:

“I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown,’ and he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand in the hand of God. That shall be better than a light, and safer than the known way.’”

Don’t miss this remarkable film. Releasing “The King’s Speech” during the Christmas season was a good idea.

It’s a beacon in what can be a dark season for movies. It shines a light on the meaning of friendship, and on the meaning of courage, the virtue that makes all other virtues possible.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—Very well made movie with excellent sets, costumes and acting. Unfortunately, there is some language in one section when the king is dealing with his stuttering problem and he finds that swear words come more easily. The movie is often funny, emotionally moving, dramatic and sympathetic. There is a beauty to it and I can see several awards coming soon. Side note: Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle of Pride and Prejudice fame appear together again briefly. Can you spot her?
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Christopher Winter, age 55 (USA)
Positive—I am glad your reviewer gave this good movie a moral rating of “average,” because the profane words which prompted the R rating were not profanity in intention or result, but more on the level of mere syllables, and in no way contribute to immorality in this otherwise clean movie. I thought the acting was excellent, with Geoffrey Rush doing a superb job as the speech coach, and holding his own in relation to the larger role played by Colin Firth as the king with the stutter. Helen Bonham Carter was fantastic as the Queen Mother, with a subtle, well-nuanced performance. I hope she gets an award for her work. The setting was interesting, and I learned a lot.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Halyna, age 64 (USA)
Positive—This film is brilliant. It is not a stuffy costume drama but a character-driven story of personal failures and triumph, written in such a way that it constantly catches us off guard with bouts of humor, anxiety, and respect. Colin Firth delivers a glorious, nuanced performance that is even more heartwarming in its smaller moments than its outbursts—him stammering through a bedtime story to his beloved daughters is touching, his bursts of anger understandable, and when his brother cruelly mocks him by taunting, “B-B-Bertie!,” we literally want to reach through the screen and punch His Majesty in the face. Of course, he is well supported, and Timothy Spall in particular is incredibly decent as Winston Churchill.

Some of the camera angles feel a bit odd, since many of them are extreme close-ups, and there is a lack of music at certain moments, but, overall, the production value and screenplay are quite good. It explains the nuances and complications of the political unease of the time without ever losing the audience.

Normally, I would not give a movie with so many uses of the f-word a recommendation, but having them condensed in one place somehow makes them easier to deal with. With very little alteration, this film could have been PG… but then, would it have had a chance at the Oscars? It’s doubtful, sadly. I believe the historical importance of it, the incredible message behind it of perseverance and triumph over adversity, and a chance to feel great love and respect for a man who was remarkable in his own right overwhelm the negative aspects.

Go see it and when it arrives on DVD, introduce it to other people with a little use of the remote control. After all, as my dad put it so well as we walked out of the theater (after the audience burst into applause during the closing credits), “it’s simply excellent.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Charity, age 27 (USA)
Positive—This is a wonderful film. I enjoyed the history behind it (being a fan of European history). Outside of his infamous Mr. Darcy role (from the BBC “Pride and Prejudice” miniseries), Colin Firth delivers. It was hard to sit there and watch his character take verbal abuse from his brother and harsh criticism from his father. I felt sorry for the future king and his “shortcomings” (it appears that this guy had some self-esteem issues, as well as a speech impediment).

I didn’t like the use of the f-word in the film, as many Christians have expressed on the Web site, however, I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation at hand. It was surprising to hear “Mr. Darcy” drop f-bombs.

All in all, it’s a great movie. I also loved Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of the “Queen Mum” as well.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Shannon H., age 29 (USA)
Positive—“The King’s Speech” is easily one of the best films of the year, and it is due in no small part to Colin Firth’s Oscar® caliber performance. Firth sells his performance from the first seconds even before he says a single word.

In the opening scene, where Bertie has to deliver a speech to a crowded stadium, the fear on Firth’s face and the stiffness in his body language are so effective that when he arrives before the audience I was terrified, as though I was delivering the speech. Geoffrey Rush deserves no less credit for his supporting performance as Lional a kind-hearted, intelligent, but unconventional speech therapist who insists on calling the king Bertie and is not above talking back to the king and insisting things be done his way.

There is a powerful scene where Bertie confronts Lional with his lack of credentials and Lional explains to Bertie, and by the end of the scene we realize that Lional’s lack of credentials are what truly makes his right for this job.

Another powerful scene is when Firth bonds with Lional over toy airplanes and tells him about some of the bad stuff in his childhood. By the end of this scene we feel that by unburdening himself of these bad memories that Bertie has gone a long way towards overcoming his fears and thus his stammer.

There is, also, a particularly touching and humourous scene where Lional’s wife returns to find the queen of England in her kitchen, and the way the scene develops brings a big smile to my face.

And finally I was blown away by the final speech delivered by Firth with Lional coaching him through it. It is one of the best speech scenes I’ve seen in a long time, because it shows just how hard it was for Bertie, and how he was able to succeed despite his fears. It is a scene of true friendship and courage.

A note about the R rating. The fact that this wonderful film about courage and friendship received an R rating for some profanity (almost none of it leant any meaning) and films like “Salt” (which featured a particularly violent neck breaking) and “The Last Exorcism” (which contained very disturbing violent images and very mature subject matter) both received PG-13 rating because they limited the use of the f word, is more proof that film critic Roger Ebert is correct and the ratings system is broken and needs repair.

I would much rather teenagers and even pre-teens view this film with its excellent message about the importance of friendship in times of trouble and an man’s ability to do what he has to despite his fears and this wonderful story of 2 men from different backgrounds who became friends and remained so for the rest of their lives.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Andrew, age 34 (USA)
Positive—It was an amazing movie. It’s called “The King’s Speech” and I could say me and my wife after seen it we were Speechless. Yes, there is a place when he had to practice intensively, and he’s using the word F___ not (faith you know), so because we listen to it at home, we had the option of muting the sound till it’s done. In a Cinema, it will be different. The overall was an excellent story very touching and full of emotions all the way.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—David, age 36 (Canada)
Positive—This movie was in one word—Excellent! While it doesn’t center itself fully around god, it certainly shows situations of where if god didn’t exist, it would never happen. The greatest point I saw was King George VI (Colin Firth) and Lionel Louge (Geoffrey Rush)'s relationship toward each other. It reminds me a bit how the apostles of Christ acted toward each other. They had fun together, were serious together, and got angry almost to the point of violence at each other. But when the biggest moment of their lives occurred. For the apostles it was Christ’s death and return and for King George and Lionel it was addressing the nation on the most serious matter a country can face, war. They rallied together and believed the best. And in the end …everything went right.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Charlie H., age 22 (USA)
Positive—This was an excellent film, very deserving of its Oscars (although I did want “Toy Story 3” to win Best Picture). Colin Firth did an excellent job, and so did everyone else! You’ll notice that I rated this film with a Better Than Average, even though it has about ten f-words. That is because the f-words didn’t bother me, the way they were put in I found to be more funny than offensive. And with the new PG-13 version, there won’t be as much language anyway; and that is absolutely the ONLY offensive content to be found in the movie. Plus, the profanity is only in a couple scenes, so it would be easy to fast forward or mute when it’s on DVD.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Nita Sparkley, age 18 (USA)
Positive—Although this movie has been given an “R” rating (most likely for the language, especially the use of the “F” word), it is necessary to prove the struggle that the future king faces. I have not seen a movie this well-made in a few years. This movie promotes family, and hard work to achieve something great. I wouldn’t recommend talking the kids to see this movie, but it is absolutely appropriate for someone over the age of 16. The presence of the “F” word is actually quite funny in the context, not being used in a vulgar and unnecessary way.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Jennifer, age 21 (USA)
Positive—What do you get when you combine Collin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter? A film that goes above and beyond what other films could only dream of doing. I had been curious about this movie for quite some time. I had been told, “The King’s Speech” is a phenomenal film. Well, I had to see the movie for myself in order to believe that statement, and, sure enough, I was pleased with what I saw. Collin Firth puts in an unbelievable performance as Albert. The depth that he brought to his character was impressive, and the same goes for Geoffrey Rush, as his speech therapist. Both men put in impressive performances.

The only objectionable material was the language. It was present. If you are sensitive to objectionable language you may not want to see this film as there is a scene where a lot of bad language comes out at once. Other than I that I have no other objections. Again, a great film and I highly recommend it. “The King’s Speech” is a must see. Good job Hollywood.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
Alexander Malsan, age 21 (USA)
Neutral
Neutral—While everyone else was olgling this movie, I was very disappointed. I saw the king mentioning God in his speech, but failed to see God being glorified for his triumph. Instead, the teacher and the king were exalted for their success in overcoming their own weaknesses. I know that king George was a God-fearing man. That’s why he trusted God for his decision of declaring war against Germany. But Hollywood, as usual, twisted the truth and left God out of the picture.
My Ratings: Moral rating: none / Moviemaking quality: 5
—I-Ting Chu, age 50 (USA)
Negative
Negative—I enjoyed the film. But I was also disappointed. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, I did not find it believable. I believe that there is a trend in film making of putting modern values into historical situations and this is a classic example. We live in an age where foul language is common and authority is despised. The fact is that the 1930s were a more deferential age than today. People respected authority, swearing and blasphemy were uncommon. After the film, I was left asking a couple of questions. Firstly, did Lionel Logue really use swearing as a part - and a very major part - of his speech therapy, as the movie suggests? Did he really humiliate the King - a committed Christian - by getting him to use the F-word? And what about Logue’s insistence at the outset that they speak to each other on first name terms? The fact is that although the content of the therapy sessions were confidential, there is no evidence that he used swearing. Secondly, people who were there at the time say that Logue addressed him as “Your Royal Highness” and “Your Majesty”. So the film makers have deliberately put in revisions to the historical narrative to suit their own egalitarian tastes.

Secondly, the film has removed the very strong Christian element of King George’s reign. The King regularly referred to God in his speeches. During the War, he called the nation to prayer during crucial points of national crisis.

Another reviewer, Peter Hitchens, picked up on something in the film that I would have not noticed, and it was this. One scene has the King and his speech therapist in the a deserted Westminster Abbey, with the Coronation Chair already installed. The therapist slumps in the sacred Chair itself, smirking to provoke the King into anger - and so, we are led to believe, into conquering his stammer. As he coaches the King through the Oath, the speech therapist (Lionel Logue) skips large parts of the wording using the words: 'Rubbish. Rubbish, rubbish.’

Here are the words so treated: The Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?’ The King: ‘I solemnly promise so to do.’

The Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgments?’ The King: ‘I will.’

The Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolable the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?’

The King: ‘All this I promise to do. The things which I have here before promised, I will perform, and keep. So help me God.’

I would contend that the King took these words very seriously indeed. It is hard to believe that Logue, an actor shown as being a great lover of Shakespeare, would have treated such a matter so lightly even as an element of a performance.

So, for me as a Christian, the film was a disappointment and a subtle hatchet job on a King who had a strong faith in God.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—McMurdo, age 40+ (United Kingdom)
Comments from young people
Positive—This was a very good movie! (More bad words then in a lot of movies I’ve seen, but they were not used in direction towards people). Collin Firth did an excellent job! Go see this movie, it was amazing—for 13 and up.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Lizzie, age 15 (USA)
Positive—The King’s Speech was a very well-made movie. Colin Firth (King George VI) did an amazing job being a man who stammers. I did not give it Better Than Average because of the immense amount of F-words and S-words. There were about 20 or more of each. A few other swears were included, too, so don’t let the kids watch it. I don’t think younger kids would like it anyway, because they might not understand what is going on, and they might find it boring. Plus it’s R. I really liked it a lot though!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Brianna, age 14 (USA)