Review in a Hurry: The King's Speech cast should prep some Oscar speeches. In this true-life tale, King George VI (Colin Firth) struggles to overcome a debilitating speech impediment. With its smart script and sublime performances, Speech is one of the best of the year. Go see it. Did I stutter?
The Bigger Picture: You wouldn't guess a radio-address could be as rousing and nail-biting as a climactic boxing match or a karate competition, but beneath all the manners and monarchs, Speech is a classic—and expertly crafted—underdog fight story. It's Rocky with royalty.
Plagued with a stammer since childhood, Prince Albert (Firth) has long lived in the shadow of his older brother Edward (Guy Pearce) and tyrannical father, King George V. After Albert's unsuccessful visits to physicians, his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) convinces him to see an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
Like any good trainer, this vocal coach has rigid rules and unconventional methods, including singing, dancing and spewing profanity. Albert initially protests but begins to make progress, especially as he explores the psychological reasons for his disorder.
When George V dies in 1936 and Edward abdicates the throne to marry an American (scandal!), Albert is suddenly crowned King George VI. With England on the brink of war and in desperate need of a commanding leader, the new king must overcome his fears and his tied tongue to deliver a radio address that will rally the nation.
Far from a boring Brit drama or stuffy period piece, this immensely satisfying film sparkles with wit and charm. Despite the play-like nature of the script, director Tom Hooper keeps Speech flowing, with lyrical editing and sumptuous classical music underscoring an offbeat visual style.
But the real pleasure is watching Firth and Rush, both at the top of their game, circle and spar and eventually strip away their differences—the pic pokes good fun at class distinction—to reveal their common humanity and form an unlikely bond.
Supporting players are also stellar, notably Carter and Derek Jacobi as the unctuous archbishop.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Timothy Spall's broad portrayal of Winston Churchill strikes a false note in an otherwise pitch-perfect cast.