The King’s Speech

As awards season moves closer and closer to nominations and the inevitable big events that we both deride and celebrate in equal measure, it falls on the studio to push the last of the hopefuls before the deadline approaches, hoping that they might grasp a nomination of some sort. This drive to get nominations can indeed be called cynical but simply look at the atrocious quality of movies capable of even being considered simply because they ticked the right boxes. I simply can’t stress it enough.

Yet from this category of “Oscar fodder” this year we get “The King’s Speech”, which in spite of its apparent eagerness to please, is generally a smart and insightful story.

Prince Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth) has a long time suffered from an uncontrollable stammer, a fact that has offered a huge source of both satisfaction and annoyance to his father King George V. After failing to make it through a speech at the Empire Exhibition, his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) suggest one final attempt at help; the controversial Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) who believes there is something altogether emotional rather than mechanical at fault. With the death of the king, potential abdication of brother Edward (Guy Pearce) and even the outbreak of war, “Bertie” is thrust into the public in a role he never thought himself capable of performing, the fate of the nation reliant on his ability to orate.

Beautifully shot and styled, it is the typical period piece with the quintessential upper-class britishness intact that most reviewers would lap up without a moments thought. David Seidler’s script however has a vitality capable of transcending the potential stuffiness that other similar projects tend to become weighed down by as they progress. The sharp, acerbic and self-deprecating sense of british comedy and identity treads the line of becoming cliché yet refuses to give in.
One of the few faults if any, is the area of time that requires coverage within the story in the name of historical accuracy. Yes I have in the past argued for fact rather than complete dramatizations that bastardize history but the passage of time and truthful representation of the same means that the picture can appear to drag. Having recently watched “Mesrine” which boils down to little more than structured anecdotal vignettes but covering an even greater period of time, there must be a way to streamline it without affecting pacing.
Similarly, this issue of scale and chronology takes time from the characters, meaning the secondary cast suffers greatly and even Firth can often seem too passive a lead, too unsure of himself to maintain an audience’s interest indefinitely.

Carter essentially plays the role for which she was largely raised, the dotty English gentry of one sort of another. Though that is not to belittle her contribution, her ability to emote with her personal physicality has grown immensely, adding a new dimension to a role we’ve otherwise seen her play many times before. For a role relegated outside of the two main subjects, the princess who would be queen is never as rudimentary as the remaining secondary cast.
Timothy Spall as Churchill and Pearce epitomize this frailty within the script; two characters who despite their key roles within the historical context and the possibility they represent are reduced to tools by which the role of Bertie is furthered, the latter explaining in part how he became the man we are first introduced to.
As Lionel and the King are the main focuses of the piece it would stand to reason that they receive the most development and key moments, all of which are beautifully evoked by Rush and Firth respectively, yet similar to how historical points of reference are presented rather quickly for the sake of exigency and flow, one or two moments of character development appear rushed in how they are explored, the case in point being a important scene for Lionel within the Abbey.

Undoubtedly, this is not a perfect picture and it may add little to the cultural conversation as a whole but it’s certainly not just another tired vehicle for statuettes.

  1. ‘The sharp, acerbic and self-deprecating sense of british comedy and identity treads the line of becoming cliché yet refuses to give in’, I agree.

    I presume you are seeing black Swan when it comes out?

      • thejackanory
      • January 20th, 2011

      Oh yeah, for better or worse I’ll be going to see “Black Swan”

  2. For me, it was for worse, but I guess that goes with the film critic turf, occassionally you have to sit through films that make you uncomfortable.

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