At first, the subject of The King’s Speech seems embarrassingly trivial. With World War II looming, soon to give rise to all manner of suffering and pain and death, this is a movie about a ludicrously privileged man fighting a speech impediment, a figurehead trying to become the very best figurehead he can be. Unchallenging, relentlessly pleasant, it screams “middlebrow.”
And yet, somehow, it finds its way to something meaningful. Colin Firth delivers a masterful performance as the ludicrously privileged king in question, revealing the vulnerable man underneath the stiff formality, but The King’s Speech accomplishes more than simple humanization. It directly confronts the fact that the king is a figurehead—powerless, seemingly pointless. Underneath the pleasantries, this is a movie about what it means to be a figurehead, what makes a good one, and why it might not be so trivial a position as cynical snobs like, oh, me might believe. The King’s Speech might not be edgy, but it’s more provocative than I first credited.