THE KING'S SPEECH comes bursting into Portland theaters this week flanked by an impressive seven Golden Globe nominations. (I know it's just the Golden Globes, but how many do you have on the mantel?) So you don't really need me to tell you that it's good. It is, but more than that it's solid, reliable, and safe as houses.
Combining cinema's most overdone (British monarchy melodrama) and least done (speech therapy) elements, screenwriter David Seidler drew from his own struggles with stammering to re-imagine the details of the true circumstances behind King George VI's (Colin Firth) speaking handicap. George—nicknamed "Bertie"—never expected or hoped to inherit his father's throne, but after his older brother Edward (Guy Pearce) abdicates, he's faced with the crown, as well as the increasingly threatening advance of a Germany led by Adolf Hitler, whose fiery speeches inspire the sinister unification of his people.
In steps the wife. Queen-to-be Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) sets the true story in motion by coaxing her husband into undergoing the unusual methods of an Australian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush), and the evolution of their eventual friendship is a key element to what director Tom Hooper does best here—make overwhelming, historic events intimate and vulnerable. The audience is held closely to the insecure, pressured, and occasionally humiliating perspective of Bertie, who is terrified of being unable to fill the role of king. As the citizens of Britain receive a radio address on which they hang their hopes and happiness, the camera remains rooted in Bertie's pained effort to speak smoothly and authoritatively from within a soundproofed booth.
With a pedigreed cast and an oft-overlooked disability at its core, Hooper's film was bound to attract accolades. It may be a predictable triumph-of-the-human-spirit vehicle, but sometimes experimental isn't on the table. Sometimes you just want to stick the finish, and here Hooper, very tidily, has.