The King’s Speech
by Bret Dorman
Another Oscar year means another British biopic about some royal person with some royal problems. I think that The Academy thinks that by nominating anything with British Royalty in it they might, by the Transitive Property Rule, seem more prestigious. There are two ‘unfortunately’s in this setup. Unfortunately for The Academy they don’t become prestigious by nominating Royal British Biopics, but by nominating good movies. And unfortunately for me… all bias aside… The King’s Speech is actually a pretty good movie.
The Story: Duke of York soon-to-be-King George VI (Colin Firth) has a stutter. And with the new invention of ‘the radio’ he’s going to be needing to make lots and lots of speeches. So wife (soon-to-be-Queen) Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) turns to ‘rogue’ speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to help them. There is a big speech at the end and its very tense.
One thing I don’t like about most Royal British Biopics is they tend to really spend a lot of unnecessary time on how ‘big’ and ‘grand’ everything is. Nothing can just be simple, they go out of their way to try and hammer in the point that these people were better than all of us and lived extravagant lives. Luckily, The King’s Speech remains relatively small. Its a personal story about a personal problem. Sure all the regality is there, but its in the background, where it should be.
While I do like, nay, love handheld shooting, its very overdone and usually not too well. In The King’s Speech, Director Tom Hooper goes for a more controlled, steadycam look, which fits the story really well but also is nice to see that not everyone is trying to do what all the cool kids are doing. Sometimes, to the people looking for it, slow steady shots can be just as exciting as crazy handheld shots.
Most shots seem to have a lot of vertical height in them, the composition of each one is constantly reaching up. This does a good job of subtly showing us that King George VI has a lot to live up to, very high amount of expectations.
These expectations come to full mount in the end speech. Its irony in its classic sense. A man with a stutter is thrust in a position where it has just become a requirement for him to no longer look good, but sound good too. Obviously there are plenty of shots of a nervous King George VI, a calm Lionel Logue, concerned family and peers, as well as a bunch of great shots of just normal, everyday folks, really grasping and hanging on to King George’s every word. For them, they are about to go to war, and they need someone to tell them its going to be okay. The amount of pressure King George VI has is so ridiculous, the expectations and pressure they unknowingly but understandably are putting on him to make this speech reaches a level of absurdity usually found in most action movies. But the pressure is real. And so is the tension.
The cast is great, everyone involved, even a very welcome (un)brotherly depiction of King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce). Pearce has been making a slow and steady comeback by playing memorable supporting characters the past few years. Colin Firth has got a great shot at the Oscar this year, and if he wins it, I can peg down the scene that is going to be the one that got it for him. Its the scene where King George VI opens up to Logue for the first time, as a person to a person (instead of instructor/student or royalty/subject), over the building of the model airplaine. Firth has to not only stir up the emotions of being surprised and laughed at his whole life, but also the technical aspect of the stammer, both synchronized together without one distracting the other.
While The King’s Speech is a very good film, and not simply just Oscar bait, but Oscar worthy, I ultimately think that in 5 years time, this will be just another movie that was good and got nominated/won a bunch of awards but that most people will forget. Its great technical filmmaking and the emotional aspect is there, but its nothing special to keep coming back to.
One quick sidenote is that I feel King George VI and especially Queen Elizabeth are kind of assholes. They treat Logue like he is just an average person and demand certain things out of him. Luckily he is also sort of stubborn in that he knows his methods can only work under his rules. But when Queen Elizabeth meets Lionel’s wife, the first thing Elizabeth says to her is basically “don’t call me by my name this is how you address me.” Its meant to be sort of funny but ultimately comes off as incredibly rude. This guy is helping your husband not become a great leader, but just try to say a few words without getting laughed at. And he never asks for anything in return. He is completely okay with staying in the shadows, being an unsung hero, because he is a nice guy. I mean, I get that they were born or married into royalty and get treated a certain way everyday and are used to it, but this guy is saving your asses. Show a little bit of respect (not that they don’t, but even when they do its kind of like throwing him a bone, instead of really saying thank you).
In Conclusion: Its an incredibly outstanding achievement in mainstream averageness. Its worthy of attention and of at least one viewing, but after that, it will just drift into your memory to the place where all the other really good but not great movies go. But never in a movie will just saying a word be more tense.
Final Grade: B+