As attention-grabbing plotlines go, it’s hardly a world-beater: buttoned-down British royal suffers speech impediment and hires unconventional Aussie quack to conquer his fear of public oratory. So it’s thanks to the best efforts of writer David Seidler, director Tom Hooper and, especially, leads Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush that The King’s Speech isn’t just an enlightening period drama, but a very entertaining, heartfelt and surprisingly funny crowd-pleaser with a glint of Oscar gold in its eye.
This is a film of small, precise, perfectly judged moments: while the historical backdrop could easily have made for epic overstatement and hand-wringing melodrama, Seidler and Hooper’s decision to focus their attention on the characters and on their relationships and insecurities, makes The King’s Speech feel intimate and wholly convincing. And in structuring the plot like a sports movie, with Firth’s George VI as the plucky outsider thrust unwillingly into the ring and Rush’s Lionel Logue as the maverick coach who talks him up off the ropes, the filmmakers press all the uplifting emotional buttons which audiences respond to.
This is, at heart, an actor’s movie, and both Firth and Rush are on top form. Their scenes together, as Logue breaks the King down, trying to unearth the scared boy inside the defensive, blustering aristocrat, are a joy to behold, packed with little moments of pure performance and sly, unexpected wit.
For all its period trappings and occasionally heavy-handed Freudian psychodrama, The King’s Speech always comes back to the unlikely friendship between two superbly sketched, immaculately played characters. By the rousing wartime finale, it’ll be a staunch, hard-hearted republican who doesn’t feel the urge to yell, ‘God save the King!’ Tom Huddleston