December 26, 2010

Eloquence of the Highest Order

Happy Birthday to me! The big 19! Here! How bout' a review of The King's Speech? It's my birthday gift to you!

Man, I love Christmas Break! Aside from the obvious - no school, no homework, going to sleep late, waking up late, skiing, real food, tons of gifts, my birthday, etcetera and so forth - the weeks between semesters is the only time I really have to see all the movies that a film blogger of my self-determined credibility needs to see. Which is why I'm getting to The King's Speech so late in the game. My plan is to see all the rest of the heavy hitters before the year is done. That way, I can participate in the year end lists actually knowing about most of the films being talked about. Still have to get to 127 Hours though. That one is hard to find...

Anyway. The King's Speech. There's a reason that this one is getting a lot of press. It's great, very well told, superbly acted, with a wonderful sense of humor. This one is gunning for the big O! It has the cajones to go all the way.


As the reign of King George V comes to an end, and the world braces for war with the Axis forces, Britain turns to it's new monarch, the former Duke of York, Albert, who takes the moniker of George VI. Unfortunately, Albert suffers from a rather bad stutter, which, as anyone who has ever seen a man in politics speak, is a bit of a problem. The world is looking to George to lead them, and the man can't string one sentence together without faltering. Having tried all the royal doctors, the Queen seeks out someone a bit more conventional. Enter Lionel, a speech therapist who is as far from royalty as you can get. Despite the difference in status, George starts meeting with Lionel, and, slowly but surely, he begins to find his voice.

It's your standard, uplifting, man-overcomes-obstacles-to-succeed, thing, but it's told remarkably well. Great care was given to each character, and the time taken to humanize these polarizing figures is instantly clear. The script is great, handling the dramatic moments very well, while injecting some very sharp and poignant comedy into the mix. It's a good job.

The role of the handicapped king is played with quiet grace by Colin Firth. Rather than try and sneak around our defenses and get at our heartstrings, Firth just sits us down, and tells it like it is. "I am the king! I have a speech impediment, and you're gonna pity me, damn it!" And, by jove, do we ever. Bolstered by a very convincing recreation of stutter, Firth is as good as he's ever been. His character is pathetic, sure, but his meekness is there to serve the story, not as a cheap ploy to stir the emotions.

Helena Bonham Carter is Queen Elizabeth, and she's just as polarizing as the man playing her husband. Bonham Carter is usually very good, but, I gotta say. It was absolutely lovely to see her play a normal person in a movie again. I'd almost forgotten how good she was when she's not being directed by Tim Burton or trying to kill Daniel Radcliffe.

The real scene stealer is Geoffrey Rush as Lionel. He's kind of a kooky character, that Lionel, but Rush plays him so well. Not only does he have a great depth to him, he's hilarious. Rush is a comedic force in this film, matching Firth's stubbornness with a great sense of humor. He's still his usual, excellent self in the dramatic moments, but, when everyone around him is so serious, it's nice to see someone who can generate a chuckle from us.

Other members of the cast include Derek Jacobi as Archbishop Cosmo Lang, Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, and Michael Gambon as George V.

One person I do want to mention is Guy Pearce as George VI brother David/Edward VIII, who gives up to throne to be with the woman he loves. If anything, it further shows how much Guy Pearce needs to be back in the mainstream. This guy is awesome, and yet he has resorted to taking smaller roles. I want Guy Pearce back when he was headlining films like Memento and LA Confidential. Oh well. Maybe people will start listening.

Goofy dude!

Director Tom Hooper directs with a deft hand. I don't know about anyone else, but the cinematography and shot composition really struck me here. Hooper frames his shots to make the characters among the smallest things in them. Often, he'll have a character off to one side, with the rest of the shot taken up by a wall or something. This sense of space does a lot to emphasize the new and enormous responsibilities that George is undertaking, as well as the daunting task of rehabilitating his speech. It's a very striking shot movie, one of the many things that the film does right. 

The script is impeccable, taking plenty of time to make each character seem real. It's one of the easiest trap to fall into. Since the figures on the screen here are very well known in the public eye, it would have been very easy to antagonize some of them so that we, the audience, have some sort of villain to hate. Well, Hooper and Co. are better than that. Every character, while not necessarily likable, feels real, thus, we can't hate them. George's subjects express disapproval of his meeting with Lionel, but it's only because they want him to succeed on the throne and they aren't familiar with Lionel. George snaps at Lionel at times, but it's because he's afraid of his new responsibilities and doesn't quite know how to handle them. All human reactions, and all things the audience can relate to.

I have to imagine that the casting directors of the Harry Potter are kicking themselves. Pretty much every British actor that didn't appear in those films is at the top of their game here! The King's Speech is a wonderful film, full of heart, grace, and humor. Great performances are just icing on the already delicious chocolate that makes up everything else. Of all the leading Oscar contenders, The King's Speech is the least flashy. That automatically makes it stand out and improves it's chances. In a world when movies are drenched in special effects and flashy action, to see a film that it solely about performances and character is a breath of fresh air! See this one, NOW!!!

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