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'King's Speech' tells tale of friendship

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP | Contributor
Sunday, February 13, 2011

The King's Speech" is leading the Oscar nominations, and with good cause. Even though we more or less know the premise and the outcome (stammering royal needs to make important speech and somehow does), we don't know the stakes, the historical situation and the profoundly human story behind it all.

It's 1925. British King George V's son, Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth in an impeccable performance), has had a lifelong stammer. No one has been able to help him. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter), finds an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel, played by that chameleon, Geoffrey Rush. An amusing, ongoing power struggle ensues between doctor and patient, royal and commoner, continuing for most of the film and resolving into the true center here: friendship. And not just a friendship of mutual need, employer and hireling, or a closed-in friendship, but two men who always have in mind their service to the common good, to duty and helping humanity.

If it had not been a friendship, the therapy would not have worked. This is evident from the best scene in the movie, which takes place in Westminster Cathedral. Perhaps we have not plumbed the depths of what Jesus meant when he said: "I no longer call you servants, but friends." Perhaps we have not tapped the power of true, altruistic, outward-looking friendship enough in our private and public lives.

"The King's Speech" presents a nobility that is accessible to all, something it seems we need to recover. Has our modern-day eschewing of some semblance of decency and societal mores really gotten us anywhere? They served a high purpose and gave direction and peace of mind. To the filmmakers' great credit, these social mores are presented intact, without "modernizing" them or belittling them.

Albert and the Duchess make a great pair, a great team and are a lovely portrait of what marriage can be.

Colin Firth does a fantastic imitation of Albert's struggle to do something so mundane, and yet so vital, for his day (live speeches and radio) and his rank (world leader). And yet, Firth doesn't drag out the stammering so much that we are in agony waiting for his next line. Just enough to let us know how real, burdening, frustrating and painstaking was the handicap.

"Speech" is a well-rounded out, fullcourse meal, seasoned with dry British wit, while still being a slice of history — not easy, that.