I am really, really disappointed to say that this movie is not as good as I wanted it to be, because it could have done, and still does to some extent, a service to stutterers. And indeed, I feel I understand this problem a little better now than I did before, in that I can see that it's more psychological than physical, which is why stutterers find public speaking so much more difficult than private. Although to be honest, I guess I kind of knew that before, or could have guessed it.
Here's the story: The current Queen Elizabeth's father, King George VI (played by Colin Firth), suffered from this condition, which I didn't know. He apparently made little effort to correct it until fairly late in his life since, being the second-born son of King George V, he wasn't expected to ascend to the throne and didn't have to speak in public all that much, although when he did it went horribly. As it begins to seem as though his older brother would abdicate as king, which he eventually does, Colin's character is thrust into the spotlight and gives consistently disastrous speeches. So he employs the services of a speech therapist, played by Geoffrey Rush, who is ostensibly the first common person he has ever really spoken to. The movie culminates in a radio address Colin as king has to give at the outbreak of World War II, keeping his halting speech in check.
There is something about relationships, both romantic and friendly, between royalty and commoners that lend themselves to cheesy discourse, both in movies and gossip magazines, and The King's Speech happily jumps on board with that. Geoffrey Rush's speech therapist keeps on telling the king, "You could be a great man," as though that is a really profound statement coming from a commoner, and Colin Firth's king keeps pointing out the obvious, such as when he remarks, "I can't pass laws or levy taxes, and yet I'm the king. Why?" At which point we are all supposed to tell ourselves, probably, that it's because this king really is a great man. But it's a good question: why is he great? Because he's making a concerted effort to correct a speech problem? Because he's (just barely) tolerating the assistance of a common man? Because he's not married to a divorcee? Because his wife is banal?
Actually, that's an idea that historical dramas of this style often try to push: great men have banal wives, who also happen to be really, really supportive and extremely well-dressed. Remember A Beautiful Mind? Just because Russell Crowe's wife was the one to ask him out doesn't mean she wasn't banal, because she was.
Anyway, Colin's character seems to be a bit of a big baby in this movie, and I don't feel all that sorry for him despite his trouble. There was one kind of moving scene where, at Geoffrey's suggestion, he sings what he's trying to say to get it out more fluidly, and in general, he does a pretty good job mimicking the stutter. Besides that, though, his character is a little flat. I really want to like this actor, but he just demonstrates to me time and again that he is only good at playing Mr. Darcy.
Also, this movie is almost comedically predictable. I don't think I'm ruining anything for you by telling you that the king's final speech basically goes fine, because that's obvious from the first minute of the thing. But people go nuts for movies with this kind of overly serious tone, as evidenced by the 96 percent fresh rating of The King's Speech on Rotten Tomatoes. For a discussion of why this might be, click here.
I have to give a shout-out to Helena Bonham Carter as the future Queen Mother Elizabeth, because she is really beautiful and womanly and has perfect deportment and porcelain skin, much like the Queen Mother herself, and is honestly a delight to watch if only for those reasons. But as mentioned above, she is banal, and her relationship with the king is kind of stupidly loving, unlike the probably way more intriguing one between the abdicated King Edward and his divorcee Wallis Simpson, which sadly is depicted only in one all-too-brief scene. And Helena's Queen Mother is also vomitudinously cheesy. That's not a word but it describes how she was. There is one line, which she delivers, that kind of sums up the tone of the whole shebang, from beginning to end:
"Darling. I refused your first two marriage proposals not because I didn't love you, but because I couldn't bear the idea of a royal life that wouldn't be my own. But then I heard you stammer so beautifully and I thought, what a special person," or something like that.
Barf. See what I mean?