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)
Filed under: Review
Tags: Alexandre Desplat, Claire Bloom, Colin Firth, Danny Cohen, David Seidler, Derek Jacobi, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Gambon, Tariq Anwar, The King's Speech, Timothy Spall, Tom Hooper