“THE KING’S SPEECH”

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A stammering British monarch… a tough-as-nails speech therapist… an anxious constituency: these are just a few of the ingredients in the polished but only moderately successful new film, “The King’s Speech”, about the one-time Duke of York, who — in the turbulent years leading up to World War II — became the King of England.
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The Duke-turned-King is played by Colin Firth, who wins our sympathy right from the start, mostly because of his speech impediment, which forces him to stumble through speech after speech — including a radio address in the film’s opening moments — with trembling lips, a heavy heart, and worried, haunted eyes. In a technically demanding role — as challenging in its way as, say, James Franco’s solo turn in the tour-de-force thriller, “127 Hours” — Firth is very good; it can’t be easy portraying a character with a stammer so pronounced that he has to stop practically every utterance in mid-sentence and take a deep breath before going on.  Whether addressing his subjects, speaking softly to his loving and understanding wife (well-played by Helena Bonham Carter), or railing at the therapist whom his wife has hired against his wishes, Firth is in total command.
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Matching him every step of the way in the far less showy role of the therapist is Geoffrey Rush, a professional with a “consultation room” so enormous yet sparsely furnished that one wonders how well he’s doing.  Rush’s character (a failed actor) is a bit of a maverick, and it is his devotion to his client, coupled with his unusual methods, that finally instill in Firth the confidence he needs to conquer his stammer once and for all.
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Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in "The King's Speech".

All of this is played out against a tense backdrop that includes Hitler’s march on Europe, Stalin’s rise to power, and — closer to home — the reluctance of the Duke’s own brother, the Prince of Wales, to retain the crown he has inherited from their father and his subsequent decision to turn it over to Firth himself.  (This is the same Prince of Wales who abdicated his throne in order to marry the American divorcee, Wallace Simpson.)

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Make no mistake, “The King’s Speech” is tastefully done.  And that’s the problem: it’s TOO tasteful.  For example, if the Duke didn’t explode in anger every once in a while (he has a hair-trigger temper) or yell at Rush at the slightest provocation (the man stammers less, it seems, when he raises his voice) we’d see no edge to his character, at all.
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I realize I’m in the minority when I say this, but — Oscar nods aside, including its Best Picture nomination — this is one movie that could have been so much better.
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FILM REVIEW by Stuart R. Brynien
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