Tom Hooper’s movie The King’s Speech is made of close-ups.
And that makes sense. It’s about a speech impediment, one that almost prevented the Duke of York from fulfilling his duties when he became King George IV.
Colin Firth, playing the reluctant ruler known to his family as “Bertie”, is a joy to watch. Fighting his “bloody stammer,” his despondent, pulpy face balloons, deflates, clenches, and explodes like he’s trying to start the engine of a junkyard car. Meanwhile, his therapist—Lionel Logue, played with magnificent expressiveness and wit by Geoffrey Rush—patiently questions, teases, and teaches him.
Much will be written about the film’s period-piece elegance, its physical comedy, the endearing supporting turn by Helena Bonham Carter, and its exquisite script.
And it will be remembered as inspiring, primarily because King George IV’s seemingly unshakeable stammer becomes symbolic for each moviegoer of whatever in his or her life has become an obstacle, an insurmountable challenge. The movie kindles within us the desire to see the impossible made possible. “Bertie” will, for the sake of his wife and his country, wrestle his fears and find his voice.
But for me, its shining virtue is its depiction of a heroic teacher who guides a stubborn student with patience, force, cleverness, love, and grace. As the spluttering Bertie becomes a volcano of frustration during his speech exercises, his therapist is a picture of perseverance. With good humor, infinite patience, and inspiring compassion, Logue reminds us that a great teacher looks, listens to, and loves his student. The King’s Speech is a tribute to the work of dedicated teachers everywhere.
Now, did the movie deserve all of those Oscars? Will it sustain a reputation as the finest cinematic work of 2010? I think that’s unlikely. Even though Tom Hooper took home a Best Director award, it’s hard to see any distinct directorial vision in his work. And the film lacks the sort of indelible imagery that makes classic movies linger in our memories.
But if you win hearts, you win enthusiasm. And if you win enthusiasm at just the right time, you win Academy votes. The King’s Speech won eight golden statuettes on Oscar night. And while many discerning critics may object, it’s hard to get upset over America’s love for a movie about the fine art of teaching.