Monday, February 21, 2011

The King's Speech

The King's Speech seems like it might be prestige-for-its-own-sake Oscar-bait, but sometimes movies like that are actually really good. Such is the case with The King's Speech, which tells the story of King George VI's troubles with his speech impediment and how an Australian therapist named Lionel Logue helped him overcome it, as well as how they became friends in the process. The script nudges history around here and there to make the story fit a traditional narrative structure a bit better, making the time of his therapy cover a broader period of history and ignoring some of the less-noble aspects of some of its characters, but much like in the film's main rival in the Oscar race, The Social Network, some adjustments to the true account of what happened are acceptable if it makes for a more entertaining film. And The King's Speech does damn well at that.

The script is quite good, keeping a nice pace as it sets the characters up and then ramps up both the intensity of the training and the political circumstances Prince Albert has to worry about on parallel tracks, always building up to the climactic scene where the two come together. It was a surprisingly funny movie, with some pretty snappy banter between the two men, with some of the dialogue taken directly from Logue's journals. Despite the humor, there's also plenty of more dramatic material where required, exploring what caused the king to develop a stammer in the first place and also selling the grave situation of Hitler's rise looming in the background. The direction is also noteworthy, as Tom Hooper filmed the movie with a lot more verve than was necessarily required with this kind of movie. Nothing about is exactly mind-blowing or unique, but it helped keep the movie from ever seeming dull.

And of course, the performances are all generally brilliant as well. Despite having to stammer his way through the whole movie, Colin Firth gives a pretty commanding lead performance as the king, and he does so well with the impediment that you almost forget he's acting. He also convincingly pulls off struggling under the weight of his growing responsibility - there are a lot of aspects to the role, and he nails all of them. Geoffrey Rush is also great as Logue. It's not nearly as difficult a part, but without good work by both men then the interesting dynamic between the two would never have worked. Helena Bonham Carter is good as the king's very supportive wife, and Michael Gambon and guy Pearce are both regal and menacing as his somewhat less supportive father and brother. It's not that they don't believe in his ability, it's just that they don't understand the difficulty of his situation, and it's a delicate balance that they get right. So The King's Speech manages to be a fairly uplifting underdog story while still having the weight of something darker, due to the terrible things that we all know are waiting for the characters just a few years after it ends. The formula is pretty easy to see, but formulas can be fine when they're pulled off so well by everyone involved. I certainly wouldn't have any qualms about it winning Best Picture.

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