Monday, December 27, 2010

The King's Speech

The plot of The King's Speech sounds about as interesting as a cheesy BBC docudrama, which is to say, not interesting at all.

While Prince Albert (the remarkably evolving Colin Firth) is the son of the king, he begins to take speech therapies to help cure his debilitating stutter. He tries every method from a variety of different doctors but ultimately settles on a brash Australian man (a reliable Geoffrey Rush) with unorthodox strategies. Once King George VI ascends the throne due to an usual set of circumstances, the pressures culminate. Will he be able to successfully deliver his first radio war time speech? Stay tuned.

The King's Speech, as directed by Tom Hooper, who did wonders with the HBO miniseries John Adams, isn't a remarkably well made film. Hooper still has some things to learn about pacing, camera work, and balancing his narrative. The film is, however, remarkably well performed, producing some of the best screen acting work this year.

Colin Firth has a very hard thing to do: he has to make the audience care about his stutters and stammers. Think about it: when was the last time you saw a movie in which a stuttering character wasn't used as a punch line or for comic relief?

So when Firth stands at the podium, unable to force his way through the keynote speech at the closing ceremony of the 1925 British Empire Exhibition, we don't laugh. No, we don't dare. Instead, we instantaneously feel for this man. We silently whisper "come on, you can do it, just concentrate."

It may seem like a simple feat, to just gain sympathy from the audience, but it's far more layered than that. Firth, as he proved last year in his game-changing performance in A Single Man, is utterly fascinating to just watch.

Watch his eyes in his scenes of forced stammer, watch his mouth tremble when he senses what is coming. Watch his forehead wrinkle in subtle anguish. This is serious skill, saying everything about what the character is feeling, without saying a word. On the outside, he's keeping afloat (barely), but on the inside, he's a tortured, insecure mess.

Firth should start dusting off the Oscar acceptance speech he should've given last year.

What's the saying: a man is only as strong as the woman beside him? Couldn't be truer here, for both the characters and the actors playing them.

Helena Bonham Carter is one of those strange contemporary British actresses who is stuck in the wrong generation. She would've been far better suited in Hollywood's Golden Age, butting heads with Betty Davis and Joan Crawford. In her current career, she's managed some serious show-stopping performances, and some forgetful duds (mostly in her husband Tim Burton's films). But as Queen Elizabeth, Carter is a subtle revelation. She's everything her husband is afraid to be: strong willed, fierce, and unwavering. It's a performance of hopeful determination, and at times, tender mercy. There's a scene in the end, that I won't dare give away, in which her relief is shared by the audience. She's able to breathe, so we're able to breathe.

I loved (seriously, loved) Amy Adams in The Fighter, but she has some serious competition this awards season.

Then there's Geoffrey Rush, as sturdy as ever, delivering a performance of impeccable wit and candor. His no nonsense approach to his therapy is exactly what King George needs, and, coincidentally, exactly what the audience needs to stay enthralled in the film. Rush hasn't always made the best career choices, but no matter what he's in, he always makes his characters interesting.

As I mentioned, The King's Speech isn't flawlessly made, it feels convenient, a tad overlong and a little too bow wrapped, but it does boast some of year's best performances. Also, despite the idiotic, absurd R rating from the MPAA (for two extremely brief, in-no-way derogatory uses of foul language), The King's Speech will be appreciated by people of all ages. Finally, a movie you can take Grandma to that doesn't completely suck. B+ 


  1. "pacing, camera work and balancing narrative". The only bad things about the film. The cast and the story are great, but It didn't deserve the Oscar for me. At least all the Oscar nominees were solid (not like in 2011)
    This is how I'd rank the Oscar nominated films:
    Black Swan - it’s everything a contemporary movie should be: new, inventive, emotionally gripping, and wholly convincing
    Inception - a mind bending, mind blowing film with a fantastic film end.
    The Social Network - you can’t just watch The Social Network, you have to listen,
    Winter's Bone - a beautifully realized, meticulously detailed drama.
    127 Hours - because Danny Boyle directed it, that’s why.
    True Grit - when was the last time you actually liked a remake more than the original?
    The Kids Are All Right - the kids may be all right, and this movie sure ain’t bad either.
    The Fighter - bad boxing scenes, great everything else.
    The King's Speech
    Toy Story 3 - I like Toy Story, I love Toy Story 2. The third part is just a carbon copy that's copying all the elements that made the second film so special.

    1. I might swap 127 Hours and True Grit, but other than that, I completely agree with your rankings here. Black Swan is fucking perfect. I absolutely love that movie.