24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The King's Speech

Will 'The King's Speech' capture the attention of American moviegoers?

November 8, 2010 |  2:05 pm

A repressed 1930s king overcomes a stuttering problem with the help of an irreverent Australian teacher -- it's not the sort of tale that exactly screams mainstream theatrical hit.

But director Tom Hooper's movie "The King's Speech," in which Colin Firth plays a pre-World War II-era King George VI who faces down his childhood demons with the help of Geoffrey Rush's therapeutic strategies, seems to be resonating stateside. At an AFI Fest screening Friday, audiences laughed and applauded with as much gusto as you'll see at a public screening. The strong reception follows equally enthusiastic ones at festivals in Telluride and Toronto.

It's possible these people loving the film are the kind of rarefied moviegoers who are inclined to enjoy a story about British royals and hardly representative of the broader swath of the American public. After all, very few films set in the world of the monarchy cross over in the U.S. ("The Queen" and "The Madness of King George" are noteworthy breakthroughs).

"The King's Speech" has the added issue of being rooted in a particular period reality. The act of public speaking is given weight because Firth's monarch must deliver an important radio address, and it's easy to see an image-minded and Internet-addicted mainstream wondering what all the fuss is about.

But it's also possible that these festival reactions are a harbinger of the reception that awaits the movie when it's released in two weeks.

At the AFI screening, Hooper offered a sociopolitical explanation for the film's playability. "Deep in the American story is the idea of American standing up to an English king," he said. "So there's something interesting [to Americans] about a member of a colony [Rush, as an Aussie] standing up to a British monarch."

(For his part, when Rush was asked what he thought would drive people see the film, the actor didn't hesitate to say he held his own hypothesis. "I think," he said "that the Americans might connect just on the level of therapy.")

For all of its cultural assumptions, "The King's Speech" is less concerned about who did or didn't do what in whose court, but about what it takes to overcome a handicap. It's an underdog sports story, in a sense, draped in different garb. And what could be more American than that?

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Colin Firth as King George VI in "The King's Speech." Credit: The Weinstein Co.


Preview review: 'The King's Speech' makes an early statement

September 27, 2010 | 12:45 pm

THE-KINGS-SPEECH_400 We'll admit that when we first read the logline for "The King's Speech," we weren't exactly sold on the period drama starring Colin Firth. The movie, directed by Tom Hooper, is set in 1930s England and centers on a young King George VI (Firth) struggling to overcome a debilitating stuttering problem. On the surface, the story seems dry -- but the film has already been picking up some serious award buzz and took home the People's Choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month.

After watching the newly released trailer for the film, we understand the hype a lot better. Although it's dealing with an embarrassing condition and is set against the backdrop of World War II, the movie seems to have something of a comedic tone.

Firth is already getting rave reviews for his portrayal of the endearing king, but we were especially taken with Geoffrey Rush, who plays the royal's speech therapist, Lionel Logue. As Lionel works with the king to prepare for an important nationwide speech that he must deliver right before the start of the war with Germany, the two seem to develop a witty rapport that evolves into a meaningful friendship.

“What I felt the film was really about was that he was saved by friendship,” the director told our colleague John Horn at the Telluride Film Festival this month. "Yes, it’s about a man with a stammer. But we all face blocks to becoming our better selves." It's that sentiment that could move an audience far broader than just the academy voting pool.

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter star in "The King's Speech." Credit: The Weinstein Co.


Toronto 2010: 'King's Speech,' 'Incendies' among award winners

Toronto 2010: Can 'The King's Speech' become the awards movie 'A Single Man' was supposed to be?

Telluride 2010: 'The King's Speech's' eloquent oratory

Toronto 2010: 'King's Speech,' 'Incendies' among award winners

September 19, 2010 | 12:53 pm

The Toronto International Film Festival handed out its prizes Sunday, giving its audience award, the Cadillac People's Choice award, to Tom Hooper's period British dramedy "The King's Speech." The City of Toronto award for best Canadian feature went to Denis Villeneuve's French-Canadian immigrant drama "Incendies."

Both films have been picked up for U.S. distribution -- Sony Pictures Classics will distribute "Incendies" and Weinstein Co. will release "Speech." The audience award for "Speech" provides the first boost to a film expected to be a major awards-season player. The Toronto audience selected Justin Chadwick's inspirational drama "First Grader" as the runner-up for the people's choice prize.

The audience's selection for the best Midnight Madness film went to Jim Mickle's vampire road-movie "Stake Land," and runner-up honors in that category went to Michael Howse's screwball comedy "Fubar II." The documentary prize went to Sturla Gunnarsson's "Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie," while the runner-up was Patricio Guzman's "Nostalgia for the Light."

Deborah Chow, meanwhile, was given the award for best Canadian first feature for her performance-minded drama "The High Cost of Living." And Vincent Biron was handed the prize for best Canadian short for his childhood summertime drama "Les Fleurs de l'Age."

The International Federation of Film Critics also awarded its prizes Sunday, giving its Discovery award to Shawn Ku for his American drama "Beautiful Boy" and its special presentations prize to Pierre Thoretton for his French-language art-world film "L'Amour Fou."

The Toronto International Film Festival winds down today.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: The King's Speech. Credit: The Weinstein Company


Toronto 2010: Focus buys Mike Mills' beginners

Toronto 2010: Harvey Weinstein, now on screen

Toronto 2010: Can The King's Speech become the awards movie A Single Man was supposed to be?

Telluride 2010: 'The King's Speech's' eloquent oratory

September 6, 2010 | 10:59 am

As a young English child with a terrible stammer, David Seidler would listen to radio broadcasts of King George VI, who also had an almost incapacitating speech impediment. The king’s World War II addresses reminded Seidler that if the monarch could overcome stuttering, so could he: The king was his elocutionary inspiration.

Seidler grew up to become a screenwriter, writing “Tucker: The Man and his Dream” and numerous television programs, but he never forgot what he heard over the wireless so many decades earlier. He eventually adapted the story of the king and his relationship with his unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue, into a play, and the play has now become the movie “The King’s Speech,” which had its world premiere at Labor Day weekend's Telluride Film Festival.

Even though the movie directed by Tom Hooper ("The Damned United") is about the royal family and unfolds around Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, “The King’s Speech” follows surprisingly common themes of friendship, perseverance and trust.

Logue (Geoffrey Rush) was indeed a talented language pathologist (the film was shaped by a trove of his unpublished papers, records and diary entries), but his true gift was companionship. Like any good shrink or comrade, the therapist was able to reveal and manage some of the things -- an oppressive childhood, chiefly -- that twisted the king’s tongue in knots. The film ends with the king (Colin Firth) addressing the nation just as the war with Germany is set to begin. 

“What I felt the film was really about was that he was saved by friendship,” Hooper says. “Yes, it’s about a man with a stammer. But we all face blocks to becoming our better selves.”

The film is stuffed with period detail (“I’m obsessive about historical accuracy,” says Hooper, who also directed the miniseries “John Adams”).

One of the film’s most memorable lines comes not from biography, but from something Hooper’s father told the director. Educated in a heartless boarding school, the filmmaker’s dad suffered some of the same confidence-killing treatment as did King George VI.

So when Hooper told his father he was stuck on one scene, his father told him some the best advice he ever heard: “You don’t need to be afraid of the things you were afraid of when you were 5.”

It’s Logue’s line to the king now, and it’s part of what makes “The King’s Speech” so affecting.

-- John Horn in Telluride, Colo.

Photo: Colin Firth in "The King's Speech." Credit: The Weinstein Co.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: