My mind stammers like the hero of The King's Speech, trying to form words that convey what my heart needs to say about this breathtaking film. Three months after its Telluride Film Festival premiere, I'm no less impeded than after exiting that screening and gushing to a total stranger: "Now, that's a movie."
Perhaps it is best to begin by addressing people who wouldn't ordinarily choose a British production set in 1936, based on the true story of King George VI. Too stuffy, they suspect, and they are entirely wrong. And who is this George guy, anyway, and why should we care?
To that, I say: Give this impeccably written and acted movie two hours and you'll be surprised beyond expectations.
We've seen the story of Edward VIII, who famously abdicated the throne for love, inspiring the kind of movies that The King's Speech is suspected of being. More unknown and fascinating is the younger brother who succeeded him: Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George, whose lack of respect among the royal family is reflected in the childish nickname "Bertie" that stuck.
Bertie (the sublime Colin Firth) shames the royals with a speech impediment that makes even simple sentences embarrassing for him and anyone listening. The King's Speech begins with a gripping example, at a public function where Bertie needs only to read a brief proclamation and can't do it. From the first moment when Firth opens his mouth and nothing comes out, there's awareness of a monumental performance in store.
At the time, Bertie's stammer is only an inconvenience, smoothed over by his reassuring wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) and children. When Edward (Guy Pearce) announces plans to end his reign to marry the divorced American vamp Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), the stakes rise higher. Germany is launching European offensives that will lead to World War II, with Adolf Hitler mesmerizing the masses with his oratory.
England needs a strong voice to rally citizens against the threat, but the one provided by ascension protocol is Bertie's painfully halting cadence. Secretly and reluctantly, Bertie is already working on his problem with a speech therapist at Elizabeth's insistence. His name is Lionel Logue, an eccentric Australian commoner treating the future king in manners to which he is not accustomed.
The pairing of Firth and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel creates the most exciting odd coupling of the year: a puffed-up, insecure fop and a mischievous man anxious to deflate him, to save him. Rush's performance is the trump card of director Tom Hooper's exquisitely structured film, or maybe the wild card, since he brings humor, making The King's Speech more fun than historical epics have a right to be. If either actor wins an Oscar, it will be shared by both.
Space is running out and I still haven't lauded the stellar supporting cast, the impossible wit of David Seidler's screenplay — he's a fascinating story himself — and Bertie's running battle with the then-new technology of radio exposing his handicap to the world. (In a fashion, The King's Speech is as topical as The Social Network.)
Like Bertie's struggle, there's so much wonderment to articulate about this film that being mistaken for a stammering idiot is a risk. See it, then say it for yourself: The King's Speech is the best movie of 2010.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.