Written by J.T. Johnson
Prince Albert (Colin Firth), the Duke of York and the second in line to the throne of the current King George V (Michael Gambon), is a loyal and strong leader of the royal family. There is only one problem. He has a debilitating stammer that makes the British people doubt his abilities.
This is exemplified in the film’s opening when the Prince cannot effectively give a closing speech at Wembley Stadium. Luckily, he will never have to worry about the throne due to his brother, David (Guy Pearce), a seemingly more suitable heir.
In order to improve his voice, Albert seeks the help of several speech therapists. None of them have a visible breakthrough until he meets Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist from Australia. Lionel’s treatments were considered unconventional at the time but soon, Albert begins to confide in Lionel and a friendship is born.
This friendship will become ever more important after George V passes away. Then, David is forced to abdicate the throne to marry a twice divorced woman. Soon after, Prince Albert becomes King George VI. While the surrounding events such as another impending World War add enough drama to the piece themselves, the film logically focuses on the friendship between Lionel and George VI.
Firth gives the audience a marvelously tragic character that must not only battle his overwhelming stammer but also his own personal demons that also helped cause the problem in the first place. Despite whatever flaws the king might have, Firth never lets the audience forget the man’s inner strength and his love for his family.
It also helps that Firth has an amazing actor such as Rush to depend on as well. Lionel is a character that never wants the king to forget that the therapist is not only his doctor, but also the friend he truly needs. Rush is completely confident in his portrayal and is just as interesting to watch as his co-star.
Individually, Firth and Rush are already brilliant, but their chemistry with one another is just as powerful. The audience already believes in Firth as the king and Rush as the therapist. Together, they make a friendship that is as real as the characters.
Another powerful performance that should be as equally noticed is Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of the king’s wife, Elizabeth. Behind the crippled king is a strong wife that never decides to give up on her husband. In fact, it is Elizabeth that is the one who initially seeks out Lionel’s services after Albert has already given up all hope.
What is also interesting to note is the film’s visual style. It appropriately captures the feelings of the people surrounding the king. Even the royal palaces have a dreary and doubtful look while Lionel’s admittedly decrepit office gives off a warm and welcoming feel.
Amidst all the drama, though, there is humor to be found in the therapy sessions. However, that humor is delicately handled and never gets too far out of hand. This includes a scene where Lionel encourages the king to swear profusely because that is one of the few times where the king does not encounter any speech problems.
The only real criticism with the film is the fact that the script, like several other dramas based on real historical events, takes several dramatic liberties. One example is that they make certain characters such as Prince David and King George V more antagonistic than they were in real life. Other inaccuracies are forgivable due to the fact that not much is known about what really happened behind closed doors with Lionel and George VI aside from a diary owned by the therapist.
Despite these minor issues, though, the movie is a thoroughly engaging drama with brilliant performances and plenty of heart. It is a true classic that nobody should miss.