Title: The King's Speech
Year of Release: 2010
Date Viewed: August 13th, 2011
MPAA Rating: R
My name and presence is announced to everyone in the room. All eyes are now looking in my direction. I swallow and take a deep breath before walking to the designated standing area. Everything is silent. My professor and fellow students wait patiently to hear the speech's content. The act of breathing is for once a conscious action. The heart is pounding. I clear my throat and take a quick glance at the note card that has handwritten cues on the topics to be covered. It's no use. I've already forgotten how to begin the speech and there is nothing else except my nervous brain to depend on. All those hours of practicing didn't prepare me for being placed on the spot for the most crucial time for a crucial graded assignment for a crucial semester. That was a typical week in my college speech communication course. Nothing else is needed to explain why I had to re-take it twice to receive a passing grade.
Most polls on phobias report that public speaking is a person's strongest fear. Death usually comes in second place. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld put it, most people would rather be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy. So does that mean speeches are a fate worse than death? All those "kill me now" moments in class sure made it seem that way. Yet as agonizing as that experience was, I had it easy compared to King George VI (played here by Colin Firth), who lived with a speaking disorder all his life while his career depended on communication with an entire country he represented. The opening scene in The King's Speech captures all the fear and general overwhelm one feels when forced to be center of attention to a large crowd. Twenty classmates is bad enough. How about trying a filled Wembley Stadium?
The future King's public address at the 1925 British Empire Exhibition is a disaster. Stammering all around and long pauses between simple words. It sounds like a child attempting to read a book for the first time. This wont do for anyone, much less a public figure. So the King's advisers and especially his devoted wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) persuade him to seek treatment in a recluse setting under the tutoring of speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Some of the seminars include unorthodox exercises and Logue's personality keeps things erratic. But it's only right for an exceptional situation to be given a novel answer. After all, it's the stuff movies are made of.
The King's Speech follows the deadline structure but doesn't share the traits typically found in this type of narrative. Great Britain is on the verge of declaring war against Germany and the rising Axis Powers. For the sake of national rally and to defy the enemy, its leader needed to act like one. And speak like one. And learn to do it fast. It's not a race against time so much as it's a race against loss of momentum, both politically and militaristic. History will have to wait to learn about Lionel Logue's role in serving his country. King George has bouts of resistance from his teachings but the country can't afford to wait for results much longer.
I like to think of myself as a fairly open-minded reviewer. But there were a few pre-conceived issues about this movie that were tough for me to shake off even after completion. And that also explains why I was late to the party in watching this award-winning film. The story is basic enough to be summarized in three sentences and the plot doesn't have enough layers for a drama to draw upon. And the idea that leaders and politicians will inevitably suffer a loss of support because of poor public speaking is something I have misgivings with; both in moral and factual analysis. I'll admit that there's probably an underlying reason why George H.W. Bush was the U.S. President while Dan Quayle was the understudy. As I'm typing this, President Obama is revealing his new jobs plan to Congress in a national broadcast. The confidence in his words is so emotionally stimulating that I almost overlooked how all of his speeches are basically the same. But anyway, it always makes more sense to judge someone by actions over talk. It's especially true in period pieces such as this where public figures were not as easily accessible as they are today.
Although the movie's construction process is pretty much flawless and the result is smooth enough to win respect from film scholars, the end result feels too reserved for something that won so many prestigious awards. One might think I'm holding it to an unfair higher standard but I swear this isn't the case. It might have actually been that "safe" feeling that swung the votes to its favor. Beyond that, the film has a lot of fine technical achievements to be proud of. Every set design has as much given care and attention as that crucial opening scene. The characters are very likable even through their most incompetent moments. (The classic belief that those who don't want help won't get help is the secondary theme.) And the movie is smart in understanding how timing is more important to comic relief than abundance. As we watch poor King George angrily pace around Logue's office and shout obscenities to calm the frustration, it's hard not to laugh and remember that familiar piece of therapy that soothed our souls since an early age. If at first you don't succeed, try try again. Then take Logue's advice and shout your favorite curse word. Then try again.