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Review: The King’s Speech

Occasionally, I review movies here. Why?  People ask me to. That and there’s not much going on.

Yesterday, I finally made it out to see the The King’s Speech, one of the front runners for this year’s Best Picture Oscar.  Let me preface everything by saying that it is indeed a wonderful movie.  My wife and I both enjoyed it immensely and were glad to have seen it. 

The film centers on the story of King George VI of England (father of Elizabeth II, the current queen).  He replaced his brother Edward as king just before the start of World War II. Edward, you may recall, famously abdicated the throne to marry an American divorcee.  The burden, and for George VI it was a burden, of leadership fell to his younger brother who struggled with a life long speech impediment.  And then aliens came and had a laser fight in a strip club.

Obviously, not.

My point is that it would have been easy for this film to be dry and painfully dull, but instead managed to stay intensely personal and warm.  This movie was ‘an actors film’.  I say that because the driving engine of the movie was the incredible performances by the three leads: Geoffery Rush, Helena Bonham Carter and Collin Firth.  The same movie with lesser actors would have been on par with an episode of Masterpiece Theater: interesting without being compelling.  ‘Actors films often suffer through long boring stretches where too little plot is stretched over too many shots of actors looking forelorn or depressed.  That wasn’t the case in this movie at all. It never lingers too long on the pained faces of its characters (until the final 2 minutes, but I’ll forgive that minor sin).

Instead, from the opening moments of the film, Firth imbues the character of Prince ‘Bertie’ with such a vivid humanity that the events feel compelling, even when they are mundane.  The opening sequence shows the future king saddled with delivering a public address with horrible results.  The look on Firth’s face is immediately recognizable, but so nuanced that it can barely be described in words.  With just a few facial expressions, Firth introduces us to a man who is both incredibly ashamed of his failures, but too proud and bound by duty to shirk his responsibilities.  He will soldier on and deliver the address, despite the fact that he and everyone else knows that it is a disaster.  

Firth is a wonderful actor and his work in Pride and Prejudice, Shakespeare in Love and Love Actually are strong examples of his considerable skill.  His role in The King Speech has made him a veritable lock for Best Actor. It is an award which he will win and richly deserve, both as a testament to his career to date as well as his work in this film.  He is amply supported by both Rush (who plays his unorthodox speech teacher) and his Bonham Carter (who plays his patient wife).  Rush and Carter’s characters both show such faith and love for Bertie that the audience can’t help but root for him as well.  Rush is his typical amazing self and Carter manages to be less creepy than normal. She’s a great actress, but she has a ‘crazy factor’ that I often find distracting. It works well in Fight Club and Harry Potter, and she shows that she can keep it under wraps when she has to.

The movie is well constructed, but frankly doesn’t feel like a ‘Best Picture’. It is a wonderful film which I deeply enjoyed, but it in many ways it was the polar opposite of InceptionInception was all about the film and the plot, and the actors served the film. In The King’s Speech, the film served the actors.  Neither form is incorrect, but for my tastes, I’d rather have the better film win Best Picture and let the better actors receive the individual awards.

Such nitpicking aside, The King’s Speech is such a fine movie it hardly needs my endorsement, but it has it anyway.