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Friday, July 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 66.0° F  Fair
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A hesitant monarch comes to power in The King's Speech
Odd man in

Forced into greatness by history.
Forced into greatness by history.
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The King's Speech is a "keep calm, carry on" wartime melodrama of the first order, and stiff though it may be, it is never less than brilliantly done. This is no simple elocutionary lesson. It is, instead, a peerless period drama featuring a stammering, unsure and borderline ordinary (as ordinary as a duke can be) man forced into greatness by history.

This may be musty and faded history to us Yanks. In 1936, Prince Albert, the Duke of York (Colin Firth, brilliantly human), was forced to become King George VI when his brother, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), scandalously abdicated the throne for the love of an American divorcée. Bad enough for any man, yes, but this royal disaster coincided with Germany's invasion of Poland and the first deadly gambits in "Mr. Hitler's" war. Worse still, the new king is a stutterer, unable to master Marconi's world-changing wireless radio.

What elevates The King's Speech above similar films (Stephen Frears' The Queen comes to mind) is Firth's intensely honest portrayal of "Bertie," a deeply flawed but finally heroic fellow who just happens to be thrust into history. His savior arrives, incongruously, in the form of Geoffrey Rush's dotty-genius speech therapist, Lionel Logue. Logue's radical methods and much-maligned Australian background counter Bertie's self-doubt in ways that seem obvious at first, but take on new weight as war looms.

This is a knowing, sincere and beautifully shot film that, unlike Frears' Queen, takes on the meatiest slabs of dark history and renders these curtsy-courting royals as something other than figureheads. Can you imagine a time when the British Empire - and by extension everything - was in peril, and the entire future of humanity rested on one slipshod and timorous tongue? It happened, in a flash that went on to last six grueling years. The King's Speech brings a country's amorphous fear of war and a sudden king's dread of his hesitant supremacy into perfect focus.

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