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Sunday, January 23, 2011

The King's Speech

Colin Firth (King George VI) and Geoffrey Rush (Lionel Logue) in The King's Speech (2010)
G-g-got any k-k-k-kings?

It's the type of film we've all seen before - the "high brow British drama", the man who overcomes adversity, the "buddy" movie, etc. The thing that separates The King's Speech from, say... The Queen, or The Deal, or any Stephen Frears pic, is that this film has no pretense. That isn't to say that a certain amount of pretense is a bad thing (I quite enjoy The Queen and The Deal, and most Stephen Frears pictures), but it's to say that this film most certainly knows where its boundaries are, and there isn't a need to ever cross the lines to make a "movie" out of it. It's a storyteller's film - it's a true story. 

More after the cut --

Perhaps the most sublime thing about a film like The King's Speech is that I never feel like I'm watching a movie. I always feel as if I'm present, or a fly on the wall to some sort of private proceeding. A large problem I have with most period pieces is that they suffer from what I refer to as "Yesterday Syndrome", an affliction that makes the film lose its period feel and seem as if everyone was just playing dress-up. But, thanks to Tom Hooper's elegant direction and the film's masterful art direction and costuming, I never once felt as if I were jumping through time. Though, the greatest thing a film like this can achieve is that it isn't just an elocution lesson for Prince Albert (or King George VI, as we came to know him), it's that it is an elocution lesson for film itself - this movie, coincidentally, never stammers, and never faults on its words. It has the sharpest original screenplay of the year, and is performed staggeringly well by its leads - Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and the surprisingly calm and quiet Helena Bonham Carter. 

Colin Firth has long been a favorite actor of mine. Since the Pride & Prejudice mini-series days. His Mr. Darcy is the standard. Lately, though, he's taken his craft to a brand new level of intimacy and has been hitting all the right marks. His "George" in 2009's A Single Man garnered him his first Oscar nomination, and his "George" in last year's King's Speech will garner him his first win. And a remarkably well deserved one. Firth, without the help of much costuming or make-up, isn't at all recognizable as his character, he's so deep in tune. And it doesn't hurt that his stammer is all too believable. Around him are Rush, as his speech therapist, and Bonham Carter, as his doting and faithful wife (... the queen, yes.).

Rush serves as the film's bright spot, though has trouble maintaining Lionel Logue's Australian accent. Regardless of that, he commands authority from the moment he steps sweetly onto screen. His dutiful father and elegant friend to Firth's King George is brilliant and subdued, much like Bonham Carter's beloved Queen Elizabeth. She plays her with nothing but mercy and bountiful love. She is the very definition of "supporting actress". The film exists as an answer to heavy melodrama and Tom Hooper's direction is the catalyst for that change. He makes the quietest moments in the film brew with tension. The key scene, in which Firth delivers his final speech, is incredibly tense, despite being played down. It's... majestic, in its own right. 

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about this film is its musical score by Alexander Desplat (recognizably). It's as soft and subdued as the film itself, yet commands almost as much attention as the film's stars. It sets the tone brilliantly and keeps the audience in check throughout. Might be the best score of the year, looking back on it. And while this film is probably poised to win the Best Picture Oscar, some will say that it shouldn't. Some will call it boring, and some will say that there isn't enough action to carry the story. I can only say that all I needed was the friendship and love between the three main characters, and I could have watched this film go on for hours.