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Originally published Thursday, December 23, 2010 at 3:00 PM

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Movie review

'The King's Speech': A story — royally told — of a monarch who finds his voice

A movie review of "The King's Speech," Tom Hooper's splendid historical drama about how the future King George VI (Colin Firth) struggled to overcome his speech impediment. It's old-fashioned filmmaking at its best.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 4 stars

'The King's Speech,' with Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Anthony Andrews. Directed by Tom Hooper, from a screenplay by David Seidler. 118 minutes. Rated R for some language. Several theaters.

OPENING SATURDAY

In Tom Hooper's splendid historical drama "The King's Speech," we watch a man fight a familiar enemy. The Duke of York (Colin Firth) stands before a microphone for a radio broadcast, looking terrified and nauseated. He opens his mouth, but the words don't want to come out; when they do, they're halting and oddly placed, desperately spit out like something bitter. A stammer, which makes public speaking a terrible ordeal, is a great inconvenience for a duke — but an unspeakable affliction for a king.

And this, as we know from history classes, is the man who would be king, after his brother Edward (Guy Pearce, looking a little young for the role) abdicated the throne in 1936 to be with the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, "the woman I love." "The King's Speech," written with an unexpected wit by David Seidler, tells how the future King George VI (known as Bertie to his family) struggled to overcome his speech impediment, with the help of the unorthodox speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), and how a man who had no wish to be king stepped up to his duty. ("I'm not a king," he says. "I'm a naval officer. That's all I know.")

But that description sounds dry, and "The King's Speech" is anything but. Watch what fun Helena Bonham Carter has with the role of Bertie's kindly wife Elizabeth (later known to all as the Queen Mum), a thoroughly sensible woman who's delighted when she can figure out by herself how the elevator in Logue's modest office building works, and charmed that she can help her husband by sitting on his stomach while he practices breathing exercises under Logue's watch. ("Quite good fun, really," she says, in her chopped-off royal voice.) Watch the sly chemistry developing between Bertie and Logue, as the actors subtly convey two very different men becoming friends. And watch how, on the eve of a terrible war, the king finds his voice — not perfectly, as in a fairy tale, but well enough — and draws a nation together, in a scene that feels like a performance of a stirring symphony.

Firth, playing a man trapped inside his own inarticulateness, makes Bertie a very human mixture of warmth and peevishness — and makes us root for him as he steps up to the microphone. "The King's Speech" is old-fashioned filmmaking at its best: a good story, elegantly told, and a joy to watch.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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