The King's Speech
17 January 2011
This year’s sure-fire Oscar-bait for all of the acting categories (except for Best Actress), The King’s Speech is a watchable, well-acted but an ultimately flat film. Throughout, one question kept nagging me: am I really interested in anything that happens here, other than the scenes with a stammering royal and a failed actor who try to outdo one another? No, I wasn’t.
Colin Firth is Albert (“Bertie”), Duke of York. The inevitable conflict with the Nazi Germany is looming near, and so is the end of George VI’s life (a criminally underused Michael Gambon). The heir to the throne is the eldest son, David (Guy Pearce). However, the Royal Family, the Parliament and the Anglican Church cannot approve of his infatuation with a twice-married American woman.
To make matters worse, Bertie stammers quite badly.
After the multitude of knighted medical experts fail, Bertie gives up on the idea of speaking in a commanding, regal way. However, his wife Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother, eerily portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter) almost literally unearths a failed actor and speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush in an incredible performance). Reluctant at first, Bertie finds himself at the mercy of Lionel’s odd techniques. And lo and behold, he overcomes his deficiency.
The problem with The King’s Speech is not its dreary predictability, but the backstory which feels forced to the viewer at every point available. If you take out all of the scenes in which Lionel and Bertie converse, every other line of dialogue is there to shove the bigger event down our throats. Which, in turn, renders every other scene and character as mere caricatures.
Yet, the therapy scenes between Lionel and Bertie are simply priceless: both exist on different social strata and their only common ground is a deficiency that brings one from his pedestal down to the other one’s level. This awkward displacement of class works superbly, thanks to the brilliant performance of the two actors. Tom Hooper’s camera ensures that the theatricality of these scenes oozes from every single frame. Simply wonderful.
It is understandable that this would never have been made without the historical background and the grand characters, the grand themes. Or, if only this was just a stage play with these two actors. Their exchanges deserve so much more than a goosebump-inducing patriotic, “Brittania Rules!” ending. Music soaring, I was expecting Timothy Spall’s Winston Churchill waving his fist in the air and yelling “Britain! Fuck yeah!”.
If you think that would be crass, don’t worry. MPAA already gave this film an R-rating because of a wonderfully underplayed scene when his Royal Highness goes one ‘f’ beyond ‘fornicate’.
The King’s Speech is a decent film, but it could have been really exceptional. It will win most of the acting awards available (deservedly), but it is no more interesting than a slightly big budget ITV costume drama.