Don't hate Colin Firth just because he's playing a real person who overcomes an obstacle in The King's Speech. But don't love him just for that reason, either.
Longtime observers of movie awards know that there's a formula for the acting categories, and that one of the surest ways to stand at the podium with a statuette is to play a real-life character, or someone with a handicap - and preferably both. It's too easy to laud Firth for his performance here, when he's been better in other films. And it's too easy to fold your arms defiantly against the high-toned look of The King's Speech, thus missing its considerable charms.
In 1934 England, the Duke of York (Firth) - second in line for the throne - has already endured a decade of quack therapies for his crippling stutter. He's ready to give up, when his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), finds Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). His methods are unusual as well, but success may be even more vital as the Prince of Wales' (Guy Pearce) relationship with a married woman may result in the Duke becoming king.
The relationship between Logue and the monarch-to-be he insists on calling "Bertie" is the focal point, and director Tom Hooper (TV's John Adams) does a wonderful job of giving a spark to their unconventional sessions. There's nothing particularly profound going on in this tale of a prince finding common ground with a commoner - simply a satisfying pairing of two talented actors.
The surprise may be that for all the attention on Firth - who's certainly good - Rush actually proves more impressive. His performance as Logue is a unique mix of simple self-confidence and roguish humor; nothing flashy about it. It's a bit harder to embrace the woes of an emotionally stunted blue blood, but while Firth may not give the performance of the year, he makes for half of one hell of a team.
The King's Speech
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by: Tom Hooper