Thursday, December 30, 2010

The King's Speech (2010)


I was once asked to speak in front of a crowd of people, and discuss my life. How it had changed so drastically due to the events surrounding the institution I was speaking on behalf of, and convince these people they could gain the same from it. I prepared my best. Wrote out the story the way I wished to tell it; even included a few jokes I could sneak in. So when the night finally came I was convinced I was ready. Striding up when my name was called, I looked out over the room of people... and immediately forgot every single damn word.

Admittedly the room I was speaking to only featured about Forty people so my relative association to King George VI, here portrayed by Colin Firth (A Single Man, Love Actually), is limited. Yet, the principles are still the same. Speaking in front of people can be an incredibly trying and difficult action. It's not made any easier when you carry the weight of a crown, hundreds of years of family history, and the expectations of an entire nation.

King George VI is perhaps one of the most dynamic characters of the year. Stoic and tempered, if you didn't know the man you'd think he was nothing but a bumbling, solemn man. However, he carries with him a long history of issues, both tragic and pressure indicative, that have paved the way to his current form. He believes in family honor because it is something he can hold onto. It won't betray him or look down on him - it's a set of rules, and rules do not judge. He also believes in his wife and children because they love him, support him, and care for him. They see greatness even in his weakest moments.

In my eyes, Firth is absolutely perfect as 'Bertie' (so nicknamed by his family and since I don't care to type out his entire name over and over again I'll use it as well). He inhabits every quirk and mannerism asked of him. His speech and the way he hits those stammers are so subtle, and yet he makes them sublime. When his eyes water up while he's mad (or feels regret and sadness) the audience is drawn to him like a mother wishing to protect her child. There's such an innocence to him that you feel impressed by his intellect, quick wit, and self-aware sense of humor. Dynamic, and sympathetic, this is without a doubt my favorite character, and performance, of the year.

Sharing the screen with him we have Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist Lionel Logue. Logue is given due time to develop as a character, and for the most part Rush shines. Australian by birth, Logue shows a flailing interest in the formalities and history a Prince and King would have to deal with on a daily basis. His demeanor, in stark contrast, helps in breaking down the walls of protection Bertie creates to shield himself from his past. Lionel is not the most dynamic character, but I quite enjoyed his expository moments in the scenes in which we see him interact with his family.

I did find it unfortunate that the other central figure of the film, Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), isn't given nearly as much to work with as her male counterparts. In essence, she's what her husband needs her to be. Strong, caring, and principled she carries much of the balance between the polarizing personalities of Lionel and Bertie. One could make an argument that if this were a comedy trio she'd be the 'straight' one who gets a few laughs but often exists solely to control the flow of the banter between her outlandish comrades.

As an instant rule of actor thumb, I appreciate anytime Derek Jacobi finds his way into a film. Here, alongside Timothy Spall as Churchill (whose main role is to remind us of Hitler's presence), Guy Pearce as the soon to be abdicated King Edward VIII, and Michael Gambon and Claire Bloom as King George V & Queen Mary, we get a well rounded supporting cast of seasoned vets. It's nice to see such talented actors given roles that do require depth, even if they are throw away and short lived.

One of the aspects of the film I found most frustrating was the direction of Tom Hooper (The Damned United, Longford). At times Hooper could be absolutely brilliant, capturing every tick and emotional struggle these characters went through. Yet, there were moments (especially early one) where I felt as if he didn't know how he wanted to compose a scene. As such many of conversation scenes had a sporadic series of cuts showing different angles on two people talking back and forth. I don't like this. It felt intrusive, and alienating amidst some very humane moments. With the talent involved, a wide shot and rolling camera is all he really needed (something I feel Hooper comes to terms with as the film goes on).

As well, I felt as if King's Speech had a bad habit of lingering too long on uninteresting issues. When the main cast of characters are conversing there's a lot of amazing drama and comedy to behold. During the quiet moments, or conversations with some of the secondary stars an element of that magic is lost. The only thing I can attest it to is the high charm and wit of the main trio. They play their characters so lively and volatile, it's hard to deal with the more flatlined co-stars who often exist just to supply backdrop elements. In a film like this, where the movie is about the journey of the characters over any tangible 'plot,' making sure you nail their time together is paramount.

In the end, The King's Speech is without a doubt one of the more enjoyable experiences of the year. Moving, funny, and full of heart, I can't help but feel as if I was part of a true and excitable journey. In context of the entire tale, many of its flaws seem negligible. As such I can only fault it a bit, and appreciate it for the roller coaster ride of emotions it took me on. There's nothing wrong with being 'oscar bait,' especially when the bait you're using is delectable.

Film Credits:
Directed By: Tom Hooper
Written By: David Seidler


4 better thoughts:

Ryan McNeil said...

A good film indeed, and perhaps one that could bring Firth the Oscar he deserved for A SINGLE MAN.

I was alright with the early frenetic photography as it intentionally played nicely under the subtle panic of Bertie trying to get a grip on his problem...I think the fact that the effect settles down as he makes progress is no accident.

Good review sir - lookin' forward to seeing how it works into your year-end top ten.

Andrew K. said...

Good review, I'm loving how much you're weighing the good and bad of films - even those that you like. I didn't want to read the review because I've YET to see this but I couldn't resist.

Candice Frederick said...

really good review. makes me actually want to see this one (and i didn't before)

CMrok93 said...

A well crafted piece of entertainment built around a couple of flashy but engaging performances from Firth and Geoffrey Rush.

Related Posts with Thumbnails