"The King’s Speech” fuses several genres into an unlikely blend. It’s a lavish period piece about British rule in the years leading up to World War II, a buddy movie about two men of different social classes learning to get along, and a crowdpleasing tale of athletic triumph, complete with the requisite training montage. Director Tom Hooper focuses on the travails of Bertie (Colin Firth), the son of King George V (Michael Gambon), future king of England, and notorious stutterer. Hooper turns history into formula: Can poor Bertie gather the nerves to address his people when duty calls? Under the fervent guidance of speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), will Bertie overcome his verbal obstacles for the sake of the throne? Take a wild guess on both counts.
Despite its familiar ingredients, however, “The King’s Speech” maintains a muted tone, normalizing a rather peculiar footnote to the bygone days of the British government. Firth and Rush work marvelously together, generating an amusing “Odd Couple” chemistry that’s unabashedly theatrical, but the movie holds little appeal beyond the scenes they share. Bertie and Lionel could have their own TV show; by contrast, Bertie and his supportive wife (Helena Bonham Carter) are a cold, mechanical couple, much like the rest of the royal family. The other twists of the plot, which involve Bertie’s carefree brother Edward (Guy Pearce) briefly assuming the throne before abandoning ship to marry an American woman, and Bertie’s growing awareness of Hitler’s threat to Europe, take on secondary roles. Nothing matters more than Bertie’s quest to finish a sentence.
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