One of the major art house successes this year, The King's Speech is about England's King George VI and his struggle with stuttering. When his father dies, his elder brother abdicates the throne, and England is pulled into World War II, he's expected to rally the country, sticking him face-to-face against his phobia of crowds and life-long speech impediment. With an unconventional speech coach and a loving wife supporting him, can he turn himself into a monarch the people will stand behind?
I can see why this film has gotten such rave reviews. The acting is wonderful, the dialogue is sharp, and the sets are period-perfect and beautiful. The story does a perfect job of showing us the character of King George the VI, a noble and strong man with so many issues; his wife Elizabeth, one of England's most beloved Queens, a motherly woman who, despite the snobbery ubiquitous in aristocrats, could reach out to people as individuals and make them feel loved; and Lionel Logue, a speech coach with no respect for royal titles, no credentials, and every idea of how to get through to suffering people.
That said, the first half of the movie was too cute for me. In trying to make its characters likable, I felt the movie put in too many schmaltzy quips and "happy family" scenes showing us how in love and kind everyone was. Though to be honest, the first half didn't appeal to me mostly because I, personally, didn't feel for King George or his wife. To be clear: this is NOT the fault of the movie, just me personally not connecting to his day-to-day struggles. Many people who can relate to what he went through will feel differently, as what critics seem to love about the first half is how it humanized George, showing us his vulnerability.
For me, the second half, when George realized he must be King, was where the movie really shone. His confusion and strength, which kept him inching forwards step by step, working tirelessly with Logue, with whom he had a growing friendship, even when so exhausted and demoralized he was sure he couldn't practice any longer; these scenes leapt off the screen and had me empathizing with and rooting for George. I could feel his effort and fear, his love for his family, his desperate desire to be more than he is and his willingness to explore places in his soul he doesn't want to go to reach that goal. And finally, when he made the speech, I think I held my breath.
The King's Speech wants to be a feel-good movie and succeeds. It is a story about having a voice, friendship that crosses lines you'd never expect, and reaching goals you're sure you never will.
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