Long before most people had a chance to see it, The King’s Speech was anointed the Oscar Favorite and it’s easy to see why. You’ve got a great cast including Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush (nothing says quality acting like English accents!); it’s a period piece with all sorts of terrific period costumes and production design; there is Alexandre Desplat’s quietly earnest, piano accented orchestral score that oozes serious quality; plus it’s a gently uplifting tale of overcoming the odds and of friendship. Finally and perhaps most importantly, it’s being distributed by The Weinstein Company run by a man who knows a thing or two about getting Oscar attention.

That’s all fine, and if you only see a handful of movies each year it may well be the best of the best, but in the context of all the excellent and interesting films that have been released this year, it’s a little dispiriting to see one as soft as this raised so high. Then again, that’s not the fault of the movie so maybe it’s best if you see and enjoy it on its own for what it is rather than for what all the awards hounds are insisting that it should be. This is a nice, well-crafted movie with a couple of very good performances, no more and no less. Maybe that’s enough.

Colin Firth has the flashiest part and he’s excellent as the nervous and quick-tempered Prince Albert, known to his family as Bertie and remembered by history as the man who ascended the throne as King George VI when his elder brother King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Bertie it turns out had a stutter and that presented certain problems for a modern monarch whose primary contact with his people was through radio broadcasts – particularly in the tumultuous and uncertain time leading up to and through World War II.

Enter Geoffrey Rush as controversial speech therapist Lionel Logue, a commoner from Australia who had some unconventional ideas that Bertie’s problem was more emotional than mechanical. Channeling a little of Alec Guinness from the Ealing days, Rush is fantastic as a gentle and dedicated but slightly off-key personality who doesn’t let on that he knows or cares he is a commoner and his patient is a king.

Helena Bonham Carter is also fine as Bertie’s wife Elizabeth. She’s a little prickly, but she’s supportive and caring and she genuinely loves her husband. Like the other two, Bonham Carter’s role here is very subtle and there’s little room for scene stealing. These are characters whose public roles are very proscribed, but the pleasure comes in seeing how they interact in private.

While the crux of the drama hinges upon whether Logue will ever be able to cure Bertie, the core of emotion builds up around the unlikely friendship and even love that slowly grows between these two very different men. One is a king with no self-confidence behind his authority and the other is a commoner with nothing but confidence to keep him afloat. In a sense, their relationship is turned upside down and this allows them a bond that would otherwise never have been possible.

The problem with The King’s Speech is that it’s very slow to get going and it never really asserts itself. The direction by Tom Hooper (HBO’s John Adams, The Damned United) is careful and dignified, but it’s also mostly uninteresting, befitting more the small screen where he got his start. The screenplay meanwhile spends a lot of time on the difficulties of Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) and his marriage to Mrs. Simpson. This subplot is probably more fascinating to an English audience but doesn’t hold a lot of resonance on this side of the Atlantic and tends to distract from the core of the film.

The King’s Speech is a solid film one elevated a bit by the excellent performances of Firth and especially Rush. It’s a little dispiriting to see it held up by some as The Best, but that doesn’t detract from its basic likeability.

A special note should be made about the film’s ridiculous MPAA rating. There’s no sex, there’s no violence, there are no adult themes and it’s a great (if a little boring) movie for young kids to see. Unfortunately it’s been tagged with an absurd R for “some language” based on a couple of scenes where Bertie is encouraged to swear because he doesn’t stammer when he’s lost his temper. The language is meaningless, contextless and harmless. It’s probably milder than anything heard on the average playground, but the MPAA has ridiculous and firm rules when it comes to words and The King’s Speech crosses them. It’s too bad because the film has important messages about friendship and overcoming obstacles and dealing with being ostracized that are especially appropriate to younger kids and the R rating makes it less likely their parents will drag them along.

The King’s Speech. Australia/UK 2010. Directed by Tom Hooper. Screenplay by David Seidler. Cinematography by Danny Cohen. Music score composed by Alexandre Desplat. Edited by Tariq Anwar. Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon and Claire Bloom. 1 hour 51 minutes. MPAA rated R for some language. 3.5 stars (out of 5)

21 Responses to “The King’s Speech (2010)”

  1. Thanks for putting this film in perspective, Craig. So far, TKS has been spoken of so glowingly and is receiving a big push in the media that an objective view is welcomed. I think I’ll probably end up liking this one quite a bit, but it’s nice to go in with realistic expectations.

    The message and tone seem to fit well with general audiences and also the awards crowd.

  2. “The problem with The King’s Speech is that it’s very slow to get going and it never really asserts itself. The direction by Tom Hooper (HBO’s John Adams, The Damned United) is careful and dignified, but it’s also mostly uninteresting, befitting more the small screen where he got his start. The screenplay meanwhile spends a lot of time on the difficulties of Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) and his marriage to Mrs. Simpson. This subplot is probably more fascinating to an English audience but doesn’t hold a lot of resonance on this side of the Atlantic and tends to distract from the core of the film.”

    Craig, as always this is a thoughtful analysis, (and I respect it) but I didn’t have these issues at all and was engaged with this magnificent film from the very beginning. It may shamelessly cry out “prestige” but you know what? It delivers the goods in a big way, and is fully deserving of all the spectacular reviews it has received. For me it’s one of the very best films of the year, and comes very close to a five-star rating. Firth and Rush are superlative as are all the ravishing components you mention here yourself. This is what class entertainment is all about.

    Desplat’s plaintive score is lovely, but he owes more than a tip of the cap to Beethoven’s Seventh. Ha!

  3. Pierre, TKS is just fine and I think some of my harder reaction is due to an overinflation by the Oscar proctologists. It’s a nice film, but I wouldn’t call it a great one.

    Sam, I don’t have a problem with it being prestige product, and it was handsomely mounted and all that, but it ultimately just didn’t grab me all that much. Sure, the guy’s got a stuttering problem but he’s the king for crapssakes. Hard to feel too badly about. Plus they spent WAY too much time on Edward and Wallis Simpson. Whenever the movie wasn’t about Rush and Firth, the movie sagged badly.

  4. Fair enough Craig, and in the end it’s different strokes for different folks and all that. But for me the fact that he he IS the King, makes the physical handicap all that more fascinating. British royalty, traditionally, has always held the public, historians and critics fascinated, and this monarch led at one of the most fascinating times in history, a time that was beautifully (and engagingly) evoked, and a time that by the very nature of its tensions yielded both inspiration and pride. These elements were presented here persuasively, helping to mold a rapturous and entertaining film.

    Similarly I was entranced by the scenes that didn’t concern Rush and Firth as well.

  5. “British royalty, traditionally, has always held the public, historians and critics fascinated,”

    Yeah, I think that’s part of the problem for me. I don’t share most people’s royal fascination.

    What I loved about it was the bond and mutual respect between the two men, one who was a commoner and one who was a king.

  6. I did a bit of background reading recently on HRH and the wife. I also remember as a kid reading Edward’s article in Life magazine about why he abdicated “for love.” I think it’s interesting that the Rush character is an Aussie.

  7. Apparently Lionel Logue really was an aussie and that adds another element to the two gentlemen’s relationship.

    What was interesting about the Edward/Wallis part is how dim of a view the story takes of Wallis. It makes sense because I know she’s not looked upon kindly by fans of English royalty, but we Americans look at her story as more one of the triumph of love over society.

    It’s too early to say but in terms of Oscar, I wonder if that will stick in US voters’ minds. I think King’s Speech will get plenty of nominations and I think it will kick ass at the BAFTAS, but I don’t think it’ll win the big enchilada here.

  8. Just saw this movie today and I really liked it a lot. Is it the best of the year? I have no idea, as I haven’t seen a lot of movies this year due to several factors. But that doesn’t matter. As you say right from the start of this review it’s a really well-crafted film and the cast is superb, particularly Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. I found it to be quite a touching film and enjoyed it very much. I will have no problem with this film receiving an Oscar nod.

    Also I think it’s safe to say that Colin Firth will receive another Best Actor Oscar nom, as he’s now delivered two fantastic and high-profile performances back to back. And it will be well-deserved.

  9. Firth shoulda won last year.

  10. I agree, Craig. His performance in A Single Man last year was just so amazing.

    However, I can’t be upset with Jeff Bridges finally getting an Oscar, as he’s had a fantastic career and I’ve always really liked him. But maybe it should have been reversed: Colin Firth last year and Bridges this year for True Grit? Haven’t seen True Grit yet, so I don’t know. That’s next on my to-see list.

  11. I’m not upset with Bridges getting an oscar either, though I wish it was for a movie that wasn’t terrible. Yes, I hated Crazy Heart.

    I wish Firth had won last year and Bridges would win this year. But I’m not in charge.

  12. Firth was terrific in A SINGLE MAN last year and I thought he deserved to win. However, I give his THE KING’S SPEECH performance a very slight edge over that Oscar-nominated performance, and I feel he’s the odds-on favorite to finally win for it.

  13. I think I liked Rush’s performance in Speech a bit better and I hope he beats Bale.

  14. Rush was excellent for sure, Craig, and I admit it’s tough to pick between he and Firth. I hope we get two winners here.

  15. Agreed about wanting to see both of them win. Both men were terrific in this movie and in particular their scenes together, and the way we see their friendship develop, were fantastic.

  16. As long as we’re lining up with our favorite performances, I preferred Firth last year to Bridges, but I also thought Crazy Heart was a good little film and that Bridges did a very good job.

    Firth’s George VI, though, is much more of an Oscar-winning part. I’ll be glad to see him win and really hope that Rush wins, too — deservedly so; he’s great in TKS and doesn’t even have to chew the scenery.

  17. Yeah Crazy Heart has plenty of fans. I’m just a cranky old man.

  18. I’ll comment here on a few things. As I mentioned in the Watercooler thread, I saw this movie over the weekend, and I am in complete agreement with you, Craig. This is a fine movie, but I wasn’t roused in any major way. However, the crowd I saw it with clearly enjoyed it; while I don’t want it to sound crass, I can say with confidence that this was one of the few times when I could literally say I was the youngest person in the theatre. I know a bit about Wallis Simpson, but I didn’t find much to glom onto there; maybe some folks remember that era.

    Like you, I hold no fascination for the royals; when I see the current Prince (Harry? William?) with his fiancee, I’m just baffled at how quickly the dude’s hairline receded. I did like the performances; Rush is my favorite, despite not having as much to do outside of his scenes with Firth, who was fine, but only truly impressed me in his believable stutter. So, good movie, enjoyable, but….just that.

    Final note: I found Hooper’s direction distracting sometimes, as when he would have, say, Rush in the left side of the frame, and nothing at all to his right. The blocking was just a bit strange to me. Not terrible, but too “Look! Style!” for me.

  19. I hated Hooper’s directing in John Adams too, or check that I hated the cinematography with the crazy dutch angles and I blame him. To be fair that might not have been his choice.

    In the case of King’s Speech it seemed undistinguished at best.

    Still, it was an enjoyable film. Good chemistry between Rush and Firth.

    Likable.

  20. Hi, I saw TKS today and after the glowing reviews I had read before watching the movie, felt a wee-bit let down. So was searching for reviews that thot the same as me and chanced upon yours. I totally agree with your view about TKS. Excellent acting by Colin Firth. Also Rush and Carter were good. But scenes without Firth and Rush sag. I found the relnship between the two men the most interesting part of the movie. Overall very good movie, but not great.

  21. That’s pretty much my exact reaction Rekha. Even before it won the Oscar there was a lot of expectation that came out of the fall film festivals. This was before Social Network caught fire and TKS was sort of the presumed frontrunner among the Oscar chattering class and I remember thinking “This is it?”

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