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Movie review: 'The King's Speech'

A still from

A still from "The King's Speech," one of the 10 Oscar nominees for best picture. Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

The King’s Speech
Directed by Tom Hooper
Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, Helena Bonham Carter
Rated R

“The King’s Speech” is a wry, well-rounded chronicle of England’s King George VI (Colin Firth) and his quest to overcome a crippling speech impediment. Bertie — as the king is called by his family — does so by visiting an unorthodox speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) at the prodding of his wife (Helena Bonham Carter). Lionel isn’t like all the other doctors Bertie’s seen: He doesn’t fawn over Bertie, and he insists they call each other by (gasp!) their first names.

Lionel puts the king through a battery of exercises that are just plain fun to watch. Casting his royal dignity aside, Bertie rolls on the floor, performs jowl-loosening jumps and communicates in song. Then there’s the talk therapy, which Bertie angrily resists but ultimately craves after a lifetime of feeling unheard: He was constantly ridiculed by his father and overshadowed by his older brother, Edward VIII, the hands-down favorite in the House of Windsor.

When Bertie ascends to the throne after his older brother’s infamous abdication in 1936 (Edward VIII married a twice-divorced mistress, which was unbecoming of a British king), his fear of public speaking grows all the more palpable — especially in the dawn of radio, which makes it impossible for him to hide his stammer from the world.

With each and every speech, the look of consternation on Firth’s face is heartbreaking: In it you see pride, vulnerability and sheer concentration all at once. Firth’s exhilarating performance is one of the best, if not the very best, of the year. You find yourself waiting, breathlessly, for Bertie to finish his sentences — who knew a movie about a stammering king could be so rife with suspense?

“The King’s Speech” is a Hollywood movie through and through, but director Tom Hooper takes the cliché out of clichés and the period out of period film. The cinematography can feel a tad ostentatious, but this is otherwise a perfectly calibrated movie with pitch-perfect acting. Hooper manages to balance humor and sentiment in a manner that is both artful and crowd-pleasing.

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