The King’s Speech – See it Now!

I just saw this film, and it is fantastic.

The King’s Speech is about Prince Albert Duke of York (Bertie to his friends, played by Colin Firth) and his stammer. Often representing his father, King George V, in public, Bertie has to overcome his nearly debilitating impediment. When nothing else seems to work, Bertie’s wife (the future Queen Mum, played by Helena Bonham Carter) books him an appointment with an unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Predictably, Logue helps Bertie become more comfortable being in the public eye (or rather ear), and the two become good friends. When his father dies and his older brother abdicates the throne, Bertie becomes King George VI, and needs Lionel’s help more than ever – especially with his country on the brink of World War Two.
The acting is probably the film’s strongest point. I don’t have anything to say beyond what has been said already, but I’d like to see Firth take home the Oscar for his performance, and at least nominations for Rush and Bonham Carter in their supporting roles. All of the performances are wonderfully understated, communicating with no more than a look or a gesture. They are supported, of course, by a wonderful script. It’s full of quick, British wit, and is hilarious at times (Bertie finds that he doesn’t stammer when he swears), but is still a touching drama. The conflict is largely character based, with the central issue being man vs. self (or man vs. stammer?), and the movie this feels very human. It is certainly a period piece, but with more accessible and real characters than can be characteristic of this style of film. The treatment of history was also refreshing. While surely a character-based film, the setting is important, and I felt that the writers did a good job of understanding that their audience would know quite a bit about this period in history, but that we’re not all history buffs – so the personal lives of the characters are explored, but we don’t have to get newsreels or the like to explain the significance of Hitler’s actions at the time. Not to mention, this film has one of the cutest bromances in recent memory, outside of the Judd Apatow school of male camaraderie.
Many scenes were very short, but these vignettes effectively told us all we needed to know without lots of uninteresting back story. (Minor spoiler, so stop if you want to go in completely fresh, but this is a minor detail) In one scene, Lionel auditions for a theatre company with a pedestrian performance of the first soliloquy from Richard III. He is rejected, but claims to have played the part before in Perth, which isn’t quite London. His status as a failed actor is referred to a few more times in the film, but that scene told us all we needed to know about his background. The film is full of short scenes like this which capture the characters admirably. The audience is allowed to figure the story and the characters out for themselves, rather than being spoonfed.
The cinematography was quirky, but not enough so to be labelled a “quirky” film, in the style of Wes Anderson and his contemporaries. Characters were often shown in close shots, enhancing the feelings of intimacy which pervaded the film. When Bertie’s stammer gets particularly painful, we get right in close to his mouth – when we’d really prefer to be as far away from it as possible. As aforementioned, the actors can portray thoughts and emotions with the simplest of expressions or gestures, and these were captured beautifully in close ups, as well as many oddly framed shots, with main action on the left or right of the screen, and a few examples of action split by a door frame or a window. The sets were beautiful, and they were given their due with sweeping far shots, ensuring that you get a good look at the floor of Westminster Abbey, the dilapidated wall of Logue’s studio, or the interior of a royal abode. Overall I thought it had a good look to it.
The score was good, for the most part, but not spectacular – although I’ve liked Alexandra Desplat’s work in the past (his work on The Fantastic Mr Fox was, well, fantastic). Near the beginning, there was some light, fast piano work which seemed wonderfully British to me, and fit nicely. The sweeping orchestral parts over the drama, however, were more commonplace. In a film so much about speech, score seemed almost unnecessary at times, and I felt that it got in the way of the speech that is so important – it would have been better even if it had been a bit quieter. That is only a minor complaint, and I’ve got nothing but praise for the rest of the movie.
The movie is getting well deserved Oscar buzz, is nominated for a number of Golden Globes, and won a number of British Independent Film awards (most of the major awards, except for Leading Actress and Director). I don’t see it winning many Oscars, but I’d like to see Firth take home the Best Actor statue, and I think he has a chance. The top contenders for Best Picture this year seem to be Black Swan and The Social Network. I haven’t yet seen Swan, so I cannot say which is better. I did see Social Network, but it isn’t fresh enough in my mind to make a fair call. I will say, however, that I left The King’s Speech feeling more satisfied, and I spent more time thinking about it afterward. The fact that I enjoyed a movie more does not necessarily make it superior, but I know which movie I will be gunning for come award season – although it probably won’t be the one I on which I place my bets.

EDIT: I’ve been reading a bunch of Oscar predictions, and apparently most people seem to think that the most likely contenders for Best Picture are this film and Social Network. I’m still pretty sure that the latter will win, but that won’t stop me from cheering for the former. Also, I saw this again today (Jan/12/2011) and it’s just as good the second time.

All in all, I recommend it. You go in knowing how it will end, but that doesn’t really matter. It may not be complicated, but it is intelligent, and the acting is wonderful. So if you want that giddy happiness you get at the end of a good (albeit predictable) romcom, mixed with the triumph you get at the end of any movie where someone has to overcome adversity (a handicap, prejudice, an opposing sports team, etc), but you want something a little more intelligent than average fair, definitely check this out. We all need a feel good every now and then, and this is an example that feel good doesn’t have to mean light or empty.
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