Colin Firth plays the Duke of York with the kind of impervious arrogance that you would expect from a royal upbringing at the height of the powers of the British Empire, when tiny England ruled one-fourth of the world. He’s second in the line of succession, which suits him just fine. He has a stuttering problem, and public speaking terrifies him, which exacerbates the problem. It’s all just too embarrassing and, well, undignified.
His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), is so very supportive of him, and tries to find someone — anyone — who could possibly help her hapless husband. She stumbles upon a commoner named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) with little pedigree and a reputation for unorthodox methods, but a track record of success. She brings her royal highness clandestinely to Mr. Logue’s modest family dwelling somewhere in the bowels of London, and things do not go well. The Prince is off put by this man’s determination to be casual, his willingness to confront the emotions and experiences behind the stammering, and, horrors, wages farthings and sixpence and half-crowns to measure progress.
Much to the prince’s astonishment, he begins to make palpable progress. But it’s a slow, painful progression, made more difficult by the external pressures on the family. First his famous father dies (the golden-tongued orator), then his wastrel older brother, instead of just quietly having a mistress on the side like everyone else, insists on (gulp) appearing with her at official public functions. Not only is she a commoner, she’s twice divorced, a known society floozy, and an American! How gauche can you get?
Not only that, the world is headed perilously close to the precipice of the abyss. Hitler is gaining power on the Continent, the English appeasement policies seem to have no effect, because he’s not bothered by niceties like assurances of future non-aggression.
And just when the older brother decides to indulge his selfish lusts and renounce both the throne and all his inherited responsibilities, Hitler invades Poland. And the world is plummeted into a war more ferocious and hellacious than any could imagine.
And here’s the newly-crowned King George VI, needing to give a radio speech that will assure his subjects, and though he can now get the words out, he’s still most comfortable when everyone else clears the room and he’s just talking to his old friend, Lionel, the speech therapist. It’s really a very touching and powerful story about the connection between two proud and difficult men, and about the tremendously healing power of simple friendship, and about how very much a little skillful, persistent, caring help can go such a long way. All those in any helping profession should note well, and take heart.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church in Greenville, Texas