From reading reviews I expected the story to be uplifting, a triumph-over-adversity saga suitable for New Year's Day viewing with friends. I had also heard that the acting was excellent. Although I am hopeless about knowing which screen star is which, friends nodded approvingly when the cast of Colin Firth (King George VI), Helena Bonham Carter (Elizabeth, Queen Consort), and Geoffrey Rush (Lionel Logue, speech therapist), and others was listed.
What none of us expected was the contextual richness, pacing, and depth of the characters. The script gives a story with tension and one perfect scene after another. The director provides lots of facial closeups, not to focus on the speaking but to let us see the eyes. The actors, each of them, showed off complex characters with a full set of motivations and personalities.
Details mattered, too. Little-girl Princess Margaret was already playing with toy horses at the age of four, but that was sort of a cheap thrill. More revealing, and touching, was the way 10-year-old Princess Elizabeth corrects the now 6-year-old Margaret when their father returns home as King after the abdication formalities of his brother. When Margaret is about to run to her father for a hug, Elizabeth stops her and tells her in a precocious-sister way to curtsy to the new monarch. What that action said about the responsibilities of royalty and the constraints tradition imposes was complete. And, the moment was a five-second scene in a movie full of such scenes.
This isn't "Good-for-You" movie. It's funny and fun. Fast-paced without a hint of breathlessness. Meaningful without being leaden. The story and its telling made us curious about King George, King Edward, Wallis Simpson, the war, the monarchy, speech therapy, left-handedness, and just stuff! As I am writing these comments, my husband is listening on YouTube to the original King's Speech delivered by the real-life George VI.
The King's Speech was a "Wow!" A very nice, excellently done, surprise.