Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The King's Speech

2010. Dir: Tom Hooper. Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce and Timothy Spall. ●●●●○

January was, as it is every year, a very tough month. In all I made it to the cinema 10 times but there were three films I managed to miss that I really should have made the effort for, so over the next few months (during the dark dismal days that is summer programming) I will be revisiting the gaps. First up is Tom Hooper's royal family biopic The King's Speech, a delightful combination of period stylings, technical brilliance and a warming relationship between an odd couple which nevertheless fails to be more than the sum of it's parts.

On the off-chance that you've spent the last 12 months under a rock and let the Best Picture Oscar winner wash over you completely the film follows the Duke of York cum King George VI (Colin Firth) attempts to deal with his crippling stammer which the aid of hammy actor turned speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). The ups and downs between these two wildly divergent characters, the former a buttoned up, quick tempered monarch in waiting and the later a smugly relaxed Aussie chancer, is set against the tumultuous historical background of the 1930's including the abdication of his brother Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) and the rise of Nazism, culminating in George's first wartime speech - hence the title.

That the film succeeds largely lies with it's two leads. Colin Firth gives an exemplary performance, completely inhabiting the role without over playing the disability. Geoffrey Rush is also superb, attacking the tough supportive role with gusto perfectly balancing the eccentricities with the genuine concern for his patient. The humorous exchanges in Logue's study reflecting the shifting acceptances of each others world and the battling egos both needing control of the sessions.

If this relationship hadn't worked as well then the entire film would've juddered to a halt, but thankfully Firth and Rush have created a fully realised on-screen male friendship dynamic that rivals Redford and Newman in The Sting.

Elsewhere in the cast Helena Bonham Carter and Jennifer Ehle give sterling support as the spouses of our bromantic leads, but beyond that most of the performances seemed out of place. Guy Pearce is one-note and awfully affected whilst Timothy Spall's Churchill seems more like a caricature than a impersonation.

Indeed the various historical events in the background often seem forced or glossed over. Old King dies, check, Brother abdicates, check, war is announced, check. All of these occasions drift by, glibly handled but largely irrelevant to the main storyline, that of a therapist helping a troubled man to find his voice. The irrelevance (along with the indeterminable montages during the titular speech) ultimately belittle the historical context, as if Hitler was purely defeated by George's resilience toward a microphone.

Technically the film is a marvel, so much so it's difficult to argue with any of the production team's stunning haul of five "technical" oscar nominations. Danny Cohen's cinematography in particular is worthy of high praise framing the characters in particular and plot-relevant ways throughout and placing the audience firmly within the world of the movie. Eve Stewart and Judy Farr also contribute greatly thanks to their gorgeous production and set design.

Tom Hooper's greatest achievement as a director is making us forget we're essentially watching two guys in a room together, ultimately this feels much more expansive in spite of majority of the film taking place in the gloom of pre-war interiors.

The King's Speech is a film that everyone can and should enjoy, featuring beautiful work both in front and behind the camera, I just wish it had a little more to say.


TomS said...

I'm glad you've come around to this film, Ben. You've written a nice review that captures the spirit of the work.

I think, in time, we will recognize this as a brilliant "little" film.

A costume drama often lead us to expect great epic sweep. So it takes us by surprise when it turns out to be intimate and limited, although focused, in scope.

What this film did was illuminate a small element of a momentous period in history, one that has been all but completely covered by the movies.

And it does so gracefully and entertainingly. It also "makes a statement" about the beauty and importance of the spoken word, to an audience that is quietly consumed by keyboards.

Thanks for the review!

Alex in Movieland said...

oh, Ben, you sure liked it more than I did. I have to say it again: to me, it was the weakest of the 10.

nothing I hate about it, it just didn't catch my interest. Geoffrey Rush is best in show, Colin is fine but I just didn't like the character. Helena is cool, very effective performance.

I'm not among those who find the Cinematography nomination absurd (there are plenty!), just that I could easily name 10 films more worthy.

I suspect you would easily back-up David Fincher's direction over Hooper's. even though I've seen no big mistakes in Hooper's directing, he's not making my Top 15 for this category. He's ok, but far from award-worthy for me.

truth is, other than Crash - which I need to see again, and maybe Braveheart, I can't seem to find a less deserving BP winner of the last 20 years.

oh, I'm so mean today.
it's probably the fact that I had to go through Barney's Version last night.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Ooh dissent in the comments. I love it.


I think this is a great little film, but there are better little films. And being limited in scope is fine but it should have stayed that rather than overplaying it's card towards the end.

That said your comments about the spoken word are very valid and this is probably the most inspiring of last years movies.


It won the Oscar because it's so inspiring, and although it wouldn't have been my first choice I can fully support the Academy's vote as a compromise winner, and it's certainly lots better than The Fighter.

I thought the cinematography was insightful and exciting so achieved everything it needed to do.

Hopefully your mean streak lifts soon and you can appreciate this movie for what it is - not for stealing the best directing Oscar from Fincher. (even though I agree with you there)

Alex in Movieland said...

oh, I don't dislike it because of its Oscar wins.
I had formed an opinion once I saw it, which was before it became clear that it was gonna win every top prize.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Sorry, I was in a pissy mood yesterday.

Of course you looked at it objectively, and I shouldn't have implied otherwise.