"Americans love kings, so long as they needn't answer to them," writes Variety's Peter Debruge, "and no king of England had a more American success story than that admirable underdog George VI, Duke of York, who overcame a dreadful stammer to rally his people against Hitler. A stirring, handsomely mounted tale of unlikely friendship starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech explores the bond between the painfully shy thirtysomething prince and the just-this-side-of-common, yet anything-but-ordinary speech therapist who gave the man back his confidence."
"While dad (Michael Gambon) remains on his throne and his elder brother, David (Guy Pearce), [is] gadding about as an international playboy, Bertie (Firth) has to give a speech," explains Kirk Honeycut in the Hollywood Reporter. "He looks like he is about to attend his own execution, and words stick in his throat so badly that what comes out is unintelligible. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), seeks out speech therapists but only disaster results. Then she stumbles onto Lionel Logue (Rush)."
"There's more at stake than pride, since Hitler is taking over Europe," adds Tim Appelo at Thompson on Hollywood, "and as the King tells his little daughter Elizabeth when she asks what Hitler is saying in his radio speech, 'I don't know, but he seems to be saying it rather well.' Everything rides on the King's big speech to rally half the planet to the Allied cause, and David Seidler's script relentlessly rachets up the tension while expertly sketching characters in a stroke and keeping the Telluride audience in stitches. 'Today we felt like we were in a Noël Coward play,' said Rush after the standing ovation died down."
Director Tom Hooper "knocks it right out of the park," declares Kristopher Tapley at In Contention. "He films his actors closely with a wide lens to affect a sort of intimacy with the narrative. Indeed, it's rare to feel this close with the characters in a film, and much of that is owed to a pair of truly exceptional performances from Firth and Rush." Tapley also interviews Firth, Rush and Hooper.
"Hooper, who directed last year's critically acclaimed The Damned United and has become an HBO regular with Longford and stints on John Adams and Elizabeth I, does fine work with a story that is confined at times to extended sequences at Logue's office," notes Gregory Ellwood at Hitfix. "He's one filmmaker who deserves more accolades for an increasingly impressive resume."
Update: Bit of background from John Horn in the Los Angeles Times.
Update, 9/7: "The King's Speech is essentially a recontextualized iteration of the underdog sports movie, complete with an unconventional coach, a training montage, a big game, and even the scene where someone on the rival team exposes a secret that angers the players." Eugene Novikov at Cinematical: "The film hews so closely to this formula that it's hard to work up any real enthusiasm for it. It broaches some serious issues, most notably the plight of a good man forced into a difficult task for which he is terribly ill-prepared, but the neat, predictable structure tends to trivialize them."
Updates, 9/11: Time's Richard Corliss traces the history of the Toronto/Oscar dance and then notes that "The King's Speech adheres to every rule in the Oscar playbook." Still, "Since most of the movie takes place in two locations (Buckingham Palace and Lionel's digs), the question arises: Why is this a film and not a play? Well, in part because a film can summon a full retinue of Brit acting royalty — Claire Bloom, Derek Jacobi, Timothy Spall, Jennifer Ehle and Anthony Andrews also show up — at their ease in this stately-homes, Masterpiece Theatre atmosphere. And David Seidler's script is a marvel of dramatic point-making... Obvious, though, is the word for Hopper's direction. It amplifies to rock-concert level every pained plosive in Bertie's speech, forces certain characters dangerously close to caricature (so we know who are nature's nobles and who the knaves). This straining for the obvious reduces The King's Speech to an experience that forces sensitive viewers, who prefer nuance over rib-poking, to juggling their response: tsk-tsking the florid directorial gestures even as they want to surrender to the poignant story and acute performances."
"As audience-friendly as it could be, the film will provide a crucial test of the Weinstein Company's ability to maximize a title's potential, as this is the sort of Anglophilic crowd pleaser that routinely made fistfuls for the old Miramax," notes Todd McCarthy.
Update, 9/12: Viewing (1'13"). Mekado Murphy talks with Firth about that stutter for the New York Times.
Update, 9/13: For Matt Mueller, blogging for the Guardian, "Only Guy Pearce strikes a slightly bum note: it's not that his performance as Edward is bad per se (he looks the part of the louche prince in thrall to American divorcee Wallis Simpson), but for a film preoccupied with speech, even the slightest hints of the actor's Aussie origins serve to annoy. It almost seems a form of revenge when Jennifer Ehle, as Logue's wife, wields the thickest Australian accent heard on screen since Muriel's Wedding."
Update, 9/16: Miranda Siegel talks with Geoffrey Rush for Vulture.
Coverage of the coverage: Telluride and Toronto 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow The Daily Notebook on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.