Most historians seem to agree that since that minor German princeling George of Hanover was placed on the throne of the United Kingdom for no better reason that he was a protestant great-grandchild of James I, the throne has been occupied by, well, dullards. These have been of two sorts; the flamboyant as personified by George IV, Edward VII and Edward VIII, and the dutiful, such as Victoria, George V and the present incumbent. The subject of this film, her father Bertie, was definitely of the dutiful sort, but it was a duty he thought he was spared for until his air-head of an older brother fell for the charms of the twice divorced American social adventuress Wallis Simpson and renounced the throne to marry her. For poor Bertie has a serious stutter, and while the British Monarchy is expected to do nothing in particular it is expected to do it rather well.
The film tells how an uncredentialed but very experienced Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), helped Bertie, later George VI (Colin Firth), overcome his speech problem. Some liberty is taken with the facts to orchestrate a dramatic build-up to the fine speech Bertie gave as king on the outbreak of World War II in 1939 (by then Logue's therapy over 12 years had considerably improved things), but the scriptwriters, who had access to Logue's diaries, are able to re-create the singular relationship that developed between two men of contrasting backgrounds. Some of Logue's methodology is still a bit shadowy but whatever he got his patients to do, it mostly worked. Logue was convinced the root cause of stutters and stammers was psychological, and given that bullying was an integral part of a English "public" school upbringing it wasn't hard to see the causes. However he struck trouble with Bertie, who was not about to let Logue loose in his psychohistory. Eventually, Logue prevails, but we also have to hand it to Bertie as well. Old George V (Michael Gambon) was right about one thing, Bertie might not have been the sharpest knife in the palace kitchen but he was blessed with great perseverance.
Actually, it's hard to fault this film. The minor characters are a delight, but the two leads are terrific. Rush is utterly convincing as the slightly raffish ex-amateur actor turned therapist while Firth, always good as agonisied characters, excels himself as the battling Bertie. If anyone is going to get an academy award, it should be the two of them, jointly. Helena Bonham Carter as Bertie's bright and loving consort also merits a mention. Apparently the Queen Mother (as she later became) found the memories of Bertie's speech struggles too painful to revisit in her lifetime, but she would not have been too unhappy with the result here.
The British royal family has been the subject of some quite decent films in recent years, "The Queen" (about Elizabeth II and Diana's death) and "Mrs Brown" (about Queen Victoria and her Scottish gillie), and this would have to rank as one of the better ones, though as usual the film makers have been locked out of the actual royal locations.. Curing speech defects normally would not give rise to much drama, but in this particular case there is an undeniable connection with great events. It is impossible to say how much effect George VI's speeches had on the British war effort and many would say Churchill (played here with great panache by Timothy Spall, who has the great man's voice off perfectly) was more influential. But it's safe to say neither did much harm.
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