THE KING’S SPEECH (118 PG-13)

THE KING’S SPEECH

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The story of King George VI of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch become worthy of it.

Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: David Seidler
Stars: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter

REVIEW

One of the many remarkable things about “The King’s Speech” is how this subtle film’s central relationship speaks to the divisions between people. The first layer of director Tom Hooper’s drama — already an Academy Awards front-runner — concerns the colossal effort by England’s King George VI to defeat a debilitating stuttering problem as his most important public moment approaches: a live radio address in 1939 declaring that Britain is at war with Germany.

Yet George’s sessions with the unorthodox speech therapist Lionel Logue are about more than correcting his stammer. They’re about bridging the gap between classes, between who you are and who you need to be.

The Australian Logue (Geoffrey Rush) works with speech-defect sufferers in a cavernous basement office in London — the better to let them shout their words. He doesn’t recognize Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (Helena Bonham Carter), when she consults him about her husband. But upon meeting Prince Albert (Colin Firth), Logue is unruffled: He calls the second in line to the throne by his given name and insists on family recollections to understand Albert’s trouble.

After Albert’s brother Edward VIII abdicates to marry a twice-divorced American, Albert ascends as King George VI. But radio broadcasts make the reluctant king’s lifelong stutter even worse, and his sessions with Logue become crucial when George must make a speech rallying the world.

Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler place the clash of new technology and old-fashioned leadership on the table first, but the Oscar-worthy performances by Firth and Rush go deeper. Firth makes Albert both pitiable and angry, a strong husband and father but a fearful leader, ashamed of his issues but resentful of help. Rush, completely in his nonchalant, anti-authoritarian element, delicately plays up and flouts the difference between king and subject. He doesn’t make Logue fearless; he is merely sure of his skills and knows a man without friends when he sees one.

The supporting cast is uniformly terrific, including a steely Bonham Carter; Michael Gambon as Albert’s father, George V, and Guy Pearce’s immature King Edward. Timothy Spall has a jowly cameo as Winston Churchill, and Jennifer Ehle is Logue’s calm, authoritative wife.

Despite being about a royal family at a critical moment in history, “The King’s Speech” doesn’t shout about its many strengths. Rather, it urges you to lean in close, where its intelligence and heart come through loud and clear.

jneumaier@nydailynews.com

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