Did an obscure London speech therapist contribute—indirectly but significantly—to Britain's victory in World War II? The stirring historical drama "The King's Speech" (Weinstein) certainly suggests he did.
With its opening scenes set in the 1920s and '30s, this is the story of the unlikely but fruitful relationship between Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth)—initially second in line to the British crown—and little-known, but abundantly eccentric elocutionist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
Logue's peculiarities come to the fore when Albert—at the instigation of his loyal wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter)—reluctantly places himself in Logue's care, hoping to overcome the stammer that hobbles his public speaking, an indispensible aspect of his life and career as a member of the royal family.
Defying protocol, the Australian-born Logue insists that he and the prince call each other by their first names, forbids his patient to smoke during their sessions and refuses to treat his august client anywhere but in his own office, a space carefully arranged to promote relaxation. All the while, Logue works to break through the rigid shell of Albert's reserve.
As he gradually does so, and as the two bond, the unflappable Logue discovers—and eventually helps to heal—the emotionally crippling childhood wounds underlying Albert's impediment. Outside events, meanwhile, combine to make Logue's task all the more urgent.
The death of Albert's father, King George V (Michael Gambon), leads to his elder brother David's (Guy Pearce) accession as Edward VIII. But David's hopeless infatuation with twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson (Eve Best) swiftly forces the new sovereign to choose between the throne and—as he famously put it—"the woman I love."
As Albert unwillingly prepares to fill the void, a second worldwide conflagration looms. So too, with the ever-increasing influence of radio and newsreels, does the challenge of establishing a morale-boosting verbal relationship between the tongue-tied king and his millions of subjects throughout the commonwealth.
Weaving into their main narrative of therapeutic, behind-the-scenes friendship, the more familiar tale of one of the modern era's most successful royal marriages, screenwriter David Seidler and director Tom Hooper create a luminous tapestry reinforced by finely spun performances and marred only by the loose threads of some offensive language.
Though played for humor, within the context of Logue's efforts to get Albert to unwind in front of him, these fleeting torrents of meaningless swearing prevent endorsement for teen viewers who might otherwise profit greatly from this touching and uplifting profile in compassion, determination and dedication to public service.
The film contains two brief but intense outbursts of vulgarity, a couple of uses of profanity, a few crass terms and a mildly irreverent joke. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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