The King's Speech

In 1925, King George V (Michael Gambon, the last Dumbledore) asked his second son to give the closing address for the Exhibition of the Empire. For the Duke of York (Colin Firth, "Bridget Jones's Diary," "A Single Man"), he may have well been asked to face a firing squad. As the years went by and it began to become clear that elder brother David's (Guy Pearce, "Animal Kingdom") attachment to American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Eve Best, SHOtime's 'Nurse Jackie') would be an impediment to his rule, especially as Hitler's rise threatened, an unorthodox Australian by the name of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films) was sought out by the Duke's wife to help still the stammer of "The King's Speech."

Laura's Review: B+

A film about the speech impediment of a British royal doesn't sound like fodder for the box office or Oscar, but this Toronto Film Festival audience favorite looks bound for both. This is a crowd pleasing film, one which mixes history and scandal with humor and that old chestnut, 'underdog overcoming the odds' inspiration. Director Tom Hooper's (HBO's 'Longford,' "The Damned United") affectionate take on Queen Elizabeth's parents paints a warmer picture than her film, "The Queen." Having set the precedent for Bertie's tongue twisted agony, Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler ("Tucker: The Man and His Dream") leap ahead to show the man's continuing embarrassment as a doctor advises him that smoking is relaxation for the larynx and coaxes him to read with a mouthful of marbles. The loving and supportive Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, "Henry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1") decides to look outside the box and books an appointment with Logue under the pseudonym Mrs. Johnson. He's an oddball, living in huge barren rooms on Harley St. with his wife Myrtle (Jennifer Ehle, "Pride and Glory," "The Greatest") and his three sons, whom he entertains with his Richard III impressions. He refuses to make house calls, even after he learns the real identify of his client to be. His singular disregard for royal protocol is at first amusing, later obviously a necessary component of successful treatment. Bertie, as only family members and now Lionel call him, wants nothing to do with this overly familiar man who asks him to read while listening to loud music on headphones. Later, he plays the record Logue created and is astonished to hear himself completely stammer free. He goes back and sets off on a secret daily venture that is equal parts physical exercise and psychological probing. When the King passes on, David becomes King Edward VIII, but his frivolous rule at a time of great stress frustrates Bertie's greater hold of responsibility. David won't quit Wallis and so abdicates to marry her and his younger brother becomes King George VI as WWII looms. The title has double meaning as the film works up to its climax of George VI's first wartime speech delivered over the radio, one which rallied a nation. There are small steps in between as an actual friendship develops between the commoner and the king. It's to Firth and particularly Rush's credit that this is so enjoyable to watch, but truth be told, Firth's stammer, which he's aced, is intermingled with a lisp that sounds based on Gilda Radner's Baba Wawa character. There is also a rift between the two men which feels a bit forced given all that's come before (Logue tells his client he'd be a better king than his brother which Bertie deems traitorous, going all 'do you know who I am?' on him.) Firth is terrific, however, shown in juxtaposition between the family man he enjoys being and the monarch who watches sadly as his own daughters curtsy. Rush is delightful as the failed theatrical actor from Perth. Americans will chortle at his literal disregard for the throne. Bonham Carter is warm with a dose of prickly (largely reserved for Simpson), although it is a bit disconcerting seeing her in discussion with Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall, Bonham-Carter's fellow Deatheater Wormtail) about saving Britain so soon after she's tried to destroy it with him in "The Deathly Hallows." Guy Pearce is genius casting as Edward VIII, both loving and mocking of his brother and a surprising match after makeup. Jennifer Ehle is lovely support as Lionel's astonished and proud wife. That's Claire Bloom ("The Haunting," "Crimes and Misdemeanors") as Bertie's formal mother Queen Mary. Derek Jacobi ("The Golden Compass") plays the Archbishop as a self-satisfied fuss budget. Technically, the film is rather ordinary. Cinematographer Danny Cohen (HBO's 'Longford,' "Pirate Radio") has a tendency to plunk his subject in the middle of the frame and uses wide angle lenses at times when one might think he's trying to portray fear or alienation and at others where...who knows (his opening shot is pretty much up a man's nose!). Netty Chapman's art direction is quite interesting, Logue's huge office's walls the smear of color that remains beneath removed wallpaper, his home transformed into Art Deco chic after years with the king. Alexandre Desplat's score may be unnoticed due to the heavy usage of Beethoven's Seventh, which, unfortunately, blares over the climax. Costume is most exceptional on Bonham-Carter, who's made to appear a bit heavier and dowdier with time. The film was infamously slapped with an R-rating because of the (humorous) use of swear words as part of Logue's therapy. "The King's Speech" is an extremely enjoyable film, but it is an outmoded form of communication when compared with David Fincher's superior "The Social Network."

Robin's Review: B+

First time feature film director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and tyro scribe Chris Galleta, with their talented cast, create a fully dimensioned coming of age film that is both comedy and drama. The boys are at the crossroads of life as they near the end of high school and enter manhood. Teenagers being teenagers, Frank really starts to bug Joe – “My house, my rules” and he will not accept anything less. The teen’s auspicious hike, with Biaggio, into the nearby “wilderness” leads to the idea of building a getaway home where he rules the roost. Joe proposes his idea to his jock BFF Patrick who immediately is against it. That is, until his parents also begin nagging him about everything he does. Suddenly, his friend’s plan starts to sound like a good one and he, Joe and Biaggio set off to their hidden valley and begin construction on their new abode. They finish their ramshackle house and a new sense of freedom pervades as they plan to live off the land. They find this extremely difficult, though, and Joe decides that the “land” they are to live off of is a nearby Boston Market. (Blatant product placement.) This idyllic setting is missing one thing – women. Joe has had a longtime crush on Kelly (Erin Moriarty), a pretty girl from school who has just broken up with her boyfriend. After their first date, he breaks the trio’s cardinal rule: Do not tell anyone about their summer home. Things get Othello-like when Kelly turns her attention to Patrick. That’s the layout of the story. It is pretty straightforward but not predictable as the boys experience the various rituals of becoming a man in a series of montages. The story is economically told, without any extraneous plots or manufactured crises. The young actors in the lead roles are all effective and breathe teen-becoming-adult life into their characters. While the film belongs to the kids, Nick Offerman gives a first-class performance, in a small but important role, as a single dad trying to find a new life with a new woman. He has to juggle his needs with those of Joe and he has a hard time understanding just what his son’s needs are. The newbie team of Vogt-Roberts and Galleta may be working on a small budget but the intelligence of the story and the quality of direction and acting make this a striking debut, not just a calling card for something bigger. “The Kings of Summer” (instead of the more descriptive original title “Toy’s House”) is an excellent alternative to the usual summer barrage of big budget actioners. I hope the tweenies that should see do see it.