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The King's Speech

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Issue: "Biblical callings," Dec. 4, 2010

"I don't believe you've met His Majesty George VI." It's a short joke, not even the funniest in what one has to reluctantly call a very funny movie about stuttering, but it perfectly encapsulates The King's Speech, Tom Hooper's warm, affecting British period drama.

With Colin Firth as a stuttering King George and Geoffrey Rush as His Majesty's speech teacher Lionel Logue to deliver its best lines, David Seidler's script crackles with the force of two outsized personalities pitted against each other. Logue, the failed actor and second-class citizen (he's Australian) is in one corner, and George, the reluctant king who has all of his father's passion and strength but none of his oratorical skills, is in the other.

Though George's speech defect is heartrending to witness, it's not really what the movie is about. (In an example of how arbitrary the MPAA is, the film is rated R entirely because Firth's character must swear to overcome his stutter and says the "f" word one too many times.) Rather than make a sloppy movie about disability, Hooper has crafted a brisk and unsentimental picture about a man who has to take on painful, humiliating responsibilities when his country needs him most: the red dawn of the Second World War.

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With Neville Chamberlain on one side and George's feckless brother Edward on the other, all the things that make George less "interesting" than his sibling-his faithfulness to his wife, his joy in fatherhood, his sense of duty-make him both the right man to take up the crown and the most reluctant one.

Watching the prickly friendship that blossoms between George and Logue (who supports George but tells him bluntly when he's wrong), we begin to understand how great leaders can be made, rather than born, and how aware of their own frailties they really must be in order to succeed.
(Editor's note: This article has been edited to reflect that this film is rated R.)

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