Dec. 22 2010 12:00 AM

Inspirational message comes through clearly in first-rate drama

    art5278

    The term "the kings speech" implies perfect pronunciation and exemplary deportment, the hallmarks of a masterful speaker who couldnt be more comfortable with the intricacies of English. The man at the center of director Tom Hoopers "The Kings Speech," however, is terrified of the sound of his own voice. Instead of demonstrating his mastery of the language, he massacres word after word, chopping them up, dragging them out and rendering them almost unintelligible.

    If its difficult to listen to, its visibly painful for the speaker: Prince Albert, the Duke of York (Colin Firth), the son of the king of England. He looks every inch the regal, aristocratic figurehead, until he opens his mouth. His voice is bold but broken, thanks to a persistent stutter that causes certain syllables to catch in his throat or stick on his tongue. When this happens, the dukes face freezes up in frustrated agony; a speech impediment is enough of a challenge, but he has the added burden of being a public figure. No wonder when he walks to a microphone to address an audience, he moves as if he was on his way to face a firing squad.



    The way Firth taps into the turbulent emotional storm raging inside the duke is wonderful to watch. Fearful, furious and humiliatingly helpless, the duke has resigned himself to lurk in the long shadows cast by his older brother, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), and his dismissive father, King George V (Michael Gambon), who thinks the quickest way to set someone at ease is to shout at them to "relax!"


    After
    spending much of the past decade trading on his charm and wit in
    romantic comedies like "Bridget Joness Diary," "Love Actually" and
    "Mamma Mia!" Firth has suddenly re-emerged as a serious actor to reckon
    with. His haunting portrayal in "A Single Man" of a gay college
    professor in the early 1960s silently mourning the loss of his lover won
    him a well-deserved Oscar nomination. In "Speech," he has a slightly
    showier role, which allows him opportunities to discover the dukes
    unexpressed resentments and recriminations, the secrets that he has
    locked away beneath a slightly haughty, buttoned-down faade. When the
    duke finally finds the courage to be honest with himself, Firths
    performance builds to a thrilling crescendo: Its as if we can suddenly
    see directly into his soul.


    Although
    "Speech" may sound like a dry historical snapshot or a high-toned
    "disease of the week" movie, its nothing of the kind. If David
    Seidlers screenplay takes more than a few liberties with historical
    details, the end result manages to be so astonishingly funny and
    genuinely inspirational that the alterations are easy to forgive.


    Much
    of the movie is unexpectedly lighthearted, as the Duchess of York (the
    splendid Helena Bonham Carter) persuades her reluctant spouse to consult
    with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an unorthodox therapist who turns
    out to be as iron-willed and demanding as his patient.


    "In here, its better if were equals," Logue blithely tells a distrustful duke. "My castle, my rules."


    The therapy sessions — and the ongoing tug-of-war
    between doctor and duke — are marvelously played by both Firth and
    Rush, although the elegant, energetic Bonham Carter is every bit their
    match as a sort of royal referee who wont allow her husband (whom she
    calls "Bertie") to give up.


    The
    supporting cast is full of sharply crafted work from Timothy Spall as
    Winston Churchill, Claire Bloom as a fussy Queen Mary, Eve Best as
    Edwards controversial consort Wallis Simpson (seen here as the ultimate
    ugly American, a woman so crass she refers to Balmoral Castle as "our
    country shack"), Derek Jacobi as an uppity archbishop and Jennifer Ehle
    as Logues amusingly starstruck wife.


    The Kings Speech


    opens Saturday, Dec. 25 at Celebration!Cinema Lansing and NCG Eastwood www.celebrationcinema.com www.ncgmovies.com