Thursday, March 3, 2011

Is The King's Speech Truly The Best Film Of 2010? No, But It's Worth Seeing!

The Good: Charming, Great acting, Moments of character, Plot development
The Bad: Not homogeneously great acting, Pacing issues
The Basics: While a certainly worthwhile film to see at least once, The King's Speech is not a perfect film, nor necessarily a worthy Best Picture winner (no matter how many people were betting on it!)

It is a very rare thing that I find myself reviewing a film in theaters that has already won the Best Picture Oscar.  As those who follow my many reviews know, I am proud of having seen every film that won the Best Picture and, like last year when The Hurt Locker (reviewed here!) won, I found myself forced to take in a new movie rather suddenly in order to keep current with the Best Picture winners.  I am not eager to get mired into the whole Best Picture thing while reviewing The King's Speech, except to say that I went into the film biased.  I suspected that it would not be as extraordinary a use of the film medium as Inception (reviewed here!) was and thus I had a little resentment that the film I rooted for all year fell to this at the Oscars.  That said . . .

The King's Speech was almost exactly what I figured it to be going in, save that the most impressive visual moments of the film were all included in the Oscars various clip shows.  This is not a film brimming with movement, spectacle or even much in the way of a weighty sense of consequence for most of the film.  That said, it is worth noting that it is not The Remains Of The Day, either.  In other words, this is not  terribly droll, plodding along British film where the viewer falls asleep eight times and awakens each time to feel like they have missed nothing because the film has not moved.  No, The King's Speech actually tackles the British "stiff upper lip" stereotype and explores the power and poignancy of early psychology in a rapidly changing world.  And, arguably, one of the most refreshing aspects of the film is that the protagonist is not instantly cured and the struggle is worth watching for the most part.

Opening in 1925 with the closing speech at the Empire Exhibition, the Duke Of York, Prince Albert is introduced as a nervous man with a stutter and a long-suffering wife who clearly loves and supports him.  While Albert - Bertie to his wife and family - struggles with his words, Elizabeth tries to find him a tutor or speech therapist who will actually help him.  In 1934 in London, she finds Lionel Logue, who has unconventional methods, but is eager to treat the whole problem with Bertie, not just the physical manifestations of it.  While Lionel and Bertie explore an unconventional relationship where Lionel treats Bertie as an equal instead of a royal, Bertie struggles with living in his father's shadow, especially under the pressure of the 1934 Christmas broadcast.

As the years pass, Albert's sense of anxiety over the speech impediment grows as his older brother, David, continues to carry on with married women and appears unable and unwilling to maintain the traditions of the royal family.  With the death of King George V and the abdication of David, Bertie finds himself in the unlikely role of Britain's monarch.  With the rise of Hitler, the new King George VI must master speeches to rally the English to the defense of Europe.

First off, it is very much worth noting that The King's Speech has pacing issues and the only thing that got it lumped into the "R" rating was a few moments of language wherein Bertie explodes or discovers that when he swears, he does not stammer.  It is remarkably safe for teenagers, despite the language and all but the most prudish parents should feel unthreatened by sharing this with their families.  Of course, it is hard to see the appeal of The King's Speech for most youngsters, so it would be unsurprising if young people did not want to see the film.

The pacing is, in fact, the most serious issue with The King's Speech and the oppressive sense of mood almost undermines the film.  The King's Speech is very realistic in the time it takes to explore Bertie's condition and it is difficult to watch in may points as a result.  This is not a terribly entertaining film, but it does capture the realism of the times and places remarkably well.  This means the film is very gray and drab, the soundtrack is slow and plodding more than anything intended to arouse any excitement or enthusiasm.  But the film does have a sense of going somewhere and the saving grace of the film is that it  does.

So much has been said about Collin Firth's portrayal of Albert and there is little more than can be said.  He is incredible with portraying Albert with his speech impediment and as a result, he is frequently hearwrenching to watch.  He stammers expertly and in the moments where he struggles and clicks, it is impossible not to empathize with him because his portrayal includes acting through the eyes where he expresses a profound sense of shame and strength (alternately) as he struggles.

The supporting cast is mostly wonderful, with Michael Gambon using his brief time to memorably portray King George V, making it obvious how Bertie was so screwed up.  Similarly, Guy Pearce (Edward VIII/David), Timothy Spall (Churchill) and Derek Jacobi all make memorable use of their time on screen.  Helena Bonham Carter, however, slips too frequently to be considered a great actress in The King's Speech.  There are moments, like one where she congratulates Bertie, where her eyes play with the same whimsy that made her portrayal of the Red Queen in Alice In Wonderland so delightfully creepy.  In other words, there were unfortunate moments where I was aware I was watching Helena Bonham Carter and not Elizabeth.

The same cannot be said of Geoffrey Rush, who provides arguably the most underrated performance in The King's Speech.  There is not a hint of any other character Rush has played in his defiant portrayal of Lionel Logue and he has the gravitas to stand up to Collin Firth and be a credible counterpart to his character.

In all, The King's Speech falls closer to what I call "predictable greatness" than actually being an impressive film.  The cast is a stacked deck and the subject is perfect Oscar fodder, but one suspects when the hype is gone, this film will end up on the same shelf as The English Patient where the forgettable greats go after their moment fades.

As a winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this is part of my Best Picture Project, which is available for enjoyment here!  Check it out!

For other films in theaters, check out my reviews of:
Hall Pass
I Am Number Four
Black Swan


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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