Why do you go to the movies? Is it to see Ryan Reynolds shimmer in a CGI Green Lantern suit, as promised in a recent trailer? Or do you prefer to watch splendid actors do what they love—acting? The latter is not easy to find in an industry increasingly dedicated to mindless spectacle.
In The King's Speech, Colin Firth plays George, the father of Britain's Queen Elizabeth. His elder brother, Edward, the Prince of Wales, is in line for the throne, and George—or Bertie, as he is known to his family—is hobbled by a painful stutter and is deeply conflicted about public life. His sure knowledge that he will never reign is upset when Edward's shocking liaison with a Baltimore divorcée alters the line of succession. Bertie's devoted wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), finds a specialist in speech therapy, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Flippant and gifted, Logue breaches the royal carapace to give the future King George VI his voice.
Not merely a lusciously creamy Masterpiece Theatre-style history lesson, David Seidler's screenplay has a satisfyingly hesitant arc. Bertie isn't steadily and miraculously cured. If everyone has, to a greater or lesser degree, a fear of public speaking, few of us are burdened with the fear that the fate of a nation rests on our performance. Yet it's easy to identify with Bertie's mic fright.
The royals are portrayed as deeply out of touch with their subjects; Elizabeth is delighted to figure out for herself how to use an elevator. And the past inevitably evokes the current state of the monarchy. Will the current Queen Elizabeth (here shown as a rosy child) pass the succession to her grandson, skipping her own son, Prince Charles, whose former mistress, now wife, he wishes to be queen, should he ascend the throne? And a cinematic visit to Westminster Abbey can't help but set the stage for another royal marriage pageant next April.
The best reason to see the film is a simple one: Firth and Rush clearly love acting together, and their pleasure is contagious. If the ever-adorable Firth wins an Oscar (and better for The King's Speech than A Single Man, which was pretentious homoerotic kitsch—not that there's anything wrong with that), then well done for him, but Rush deserves half.