The King’s Speech
Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce, Claire Bloom, Eve Best, Timothy Spall
R for some language
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When the movies you get on television are more successfully filmed and orchestrated, it’s hard to appreciate a trifle like The King’s Speech. Yet, this enjoyable and compelling film manages to succeed in spite of itself and the apparent laziness of director Tom Hooper.
Set just prior to the death of King George V and proceeding through the start of World War II, The King’s Speech focuses on one of the least represented British rulers on the big screen: Prince Albert, Duke of York and future King George VI. The reluctant leader was brought to power in the direst of circumstance after his brother abdicated the throne and had to overcome a serious speech impediment to become a strong leader for his people as the threat of war and the dictatorship of Hitler loomed over them.
Colin Firth is magnificent as Prince Albert. He creates such a compelling and interesting character that the film never feels like it has to rely on someone else to carry it. Yet Geoffrey Rush as the speech therapist who helps him find his confidence and his voice does his best to help lift the burden. They are two gifted thespians who never treat the audience with disrespect, keeping them fully involved in their struggles for acceptance. Helena Bonham Carter almost blends into the background as Berty’s wife, but manages to stay just inside the film’s periphery as to feel necessary. She supports Firth well, though the fact that she’s so subdued is more amazing when you consider all of the outlandish characters she’s played these last several years.
The complex relationship between Berty and Lionel is what the audience cares about. Sure it wants to see Berty succeed, but when the threat of separation becomes stronger, you want nothing more than for them to get back together again even if he never makes the major speech we assume is coming. And despite the believable dynamic created between Firth and Rush, it’s almost in spite of the screenplay which follows a trajectory so predictable that you know before the film does what’s going to happen. Of course, the scene-to-scene layout is formulaic, the humor is genuine and strikingly delivered. You laugh more often than you might expect in a film of this type.
Hooper makes for an exasperating director. As you watch the film, you can’t help but wonder what he’s thinking. Every conversation between Firth and Rush is carried out in medium shots. Not close ups. No over-the-shoulders. Nothing to even really set them into time and place. Many of the long shots we get are establishing shots, which makes the film feel stale and invariable. While it helps the actors work hard to pull the audience into their lives, it does nothing to keep things fresh.
Yet, in spite of everything this is a film that’s enjoyable and entertaining. It’s enlivens the spirit and educates the mind. You feel a part of the film even if it doesn’t feel like a part of you. And when everything is finished, you realize that it’s Firth and Rush that made the film feel so special and you’re thankful for that alone.
January 17, 2011