Let's take a moment to consider the atypical career of Colin Firth. He became a superstar in his native Britain in his mid-thirties thanks to his definitive portrayal of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, a role that made him so iconic there that he spent many years parodying or acknowledging it in films like Love Actually and Bridget Jones's Diary. Sure, he worked in other capacities -- a talent as versatile as his is almost guaranteed steady work in British film -- but it was his turn in Tom Ford's 2009 drama, A Single Man, that brought Firth international acclaim, as well as his first Oscar nomination in the United States. Just one year after that, with Tom Hooper's The King's Speech, Firth solidifies his status as one of the best actors of his generation.
Playing the future King George VI, Firth takes the kind of part that stereotypically wins Oscars -- a powerful man with a physical handicap -- and makes him a three-dimensional human. Bertie, as the man is known to close friends and family, has suffered from a stutter his entire life. When his older brother, Edward (Guy Pearce), abdicates the throne just as World War II becomes eminent, Bertie must not only overcome the emotional pressures of ascending to power, but control his stammer as well in order to address and inspire his people on what was, at that point, the most widespread form of mass communication -- radio.
To that end, he hires Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a commoner who has worked in the nascent field of speech pathology long enough to offer some relief to the self-doubting Bertie, and to force the future monarch to consider the deeper psychological issues that lie at the core of the problem.
That description, however, doesn't come close to doing justice to how entertaining The King's Speech is. David Seidler's juicy script is packed with dialogue that alternates between belly laughs, witty retorts, and dramatic revelations with such deftness that each scene -- like the one where Bertie and Lionel first meet -- feels like its own mini-movie, with the character arcs all advancing steadily but surely toward the big day when the king must tell his people that they are at war with the Nazis.
Given such an airtight script, director Tom Hooper delivers the goods. His ability to hold a shot -- especially close-ups -- for just the right amount of time is uncanny; he knows where the dramatic or comedic beat is at every point, and he focuses on it with minimum fuss. The King's Speech is old-fashioned in the best sense of the word.
Firth is outstanding in the lead role, playing a man with a disability as opposed to simply playing a disability. An actor always capable of indicating the emotions boiling inside a repressed person, he brings out Bertie's neuroses in the subtlest of ways -- hand gestures, eye squints -- as well as in his speech. He makes us feel the near-constant physical frustration of not being able to express yourself.
Firth is the biggest reason to see this movie, but he's far from the only one. Rush offers flawless support (and gets the vast majority of the best laugh lines), and Helena Bonham Carter, as Bertie's wife, Elizabeth, reminds everybody that she can handle much more than just Harry Potter movies and her significant other Tim Burton's films. In fact, a scene where she meets Lionel's wife stands as one of the most astoundingly layered exchanges between royalty and a commoner that's ever been filmed.
Inspiring, funny, touching, and delivered with craftsmanship and artistry, The King's Speech is a testament to the greatness of King George VI, the talent of Colin Firth, and the joys of quality filmmaking.