Most people aren’t born a king or a queen. Woe to those who want not the burden. Consider, in Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, poor George VI, unable even to complete a simple public reading due to his speech impediment. Were he not played with such reasonable humor and simple goodness by Colin Firth, American audiences would be turning their noses at him, as do most of this film’s detractors. Now is not a fashionable time for our thoughts to turn to royalty, certainly not a time to whitewash German appeasement.
Good thing then that our protagonist here is neither the humble Firth or certainly Timothy Spall’s glaring Winston Churchill, but Geoffrey Rush’s perspicacious speech therapist. Yes, we have here the story of a Duke who inherits the throne on account of Edward VIII’s moral turpitude, a story awash in both scandalous palace intrigue and sudden realignment of the throne to the public’s full support against the Nazis (never minding of course the actual turn of events in history outlined here, in what could not reasonably be called a review of the film in question).
That these events all lead to Neville Chamerlain’s and King George’s appeasement to the Nazis and the surrender of the Sudetenland is something we can all look up for ourselves (would Europe have fared better under Edward VIII?).
These may be questions for a film to ask, but they are not central to the action of this film. The King's Speech isn't celebrating the glories of the Monarchy, and indeed, the concept of divine right is nothing if not mocked by Rush’s speech therapist, and still more subtly skewered by Derek Jacobi’s portrayal of a pompous sycophant of an archbishop.
The joy of the film is in the deep friendship between George and Lionel, eventually transcending their different stations in life, and indeed, lasting the rest of their lives. Rush’s Lionel is the sharpest character here, the fool (who loves Shakespeare), who needles and disarms the King until the bond they share becomes the ultimate authority in the room. In order to unlock the key to Firth's stammer, he must first reduce him to vulnerabilities. The Australian insouciance with which he must dismantle royal airs is barely masked mischief for him.
If we are expected by some observers to view this film as an apology for appeasement and a bad reading of history, the actual experience proves that feeling difficult to achieve. It’s an electric thrill, terrifically exciting, more fun than the best action flick this year. The King’s Speech has reached the number two slot at the box office this week, and is this year's most successful indie besides Black Swan and the Coens’ True Grit. This is not because Americans are by and large sympathetic to the Monarchy.