16 February 2011

Movie Review: "The King's Speech"

The King's Speech
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle and Michael Gambon
Screenplay by David Seidler
Directed by Tom Hooper
Theatrical Release Date: 24 December 2010
Date of Screening: 15 February 2011
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My wife had no interest in seeing this, so she and my cousin Brooke elected to see The Roommate, leaving me to see a movie by myself for the first time since I took in a matinée screening of Catch Me If You Can back in 2003.  I enjoy seeing movies by myself, actually; it frees me up to take whole ownership of the experience, rather than share it with someone else.  As I made my way to the front row--where my wife refuses to sit--I thought of Sir Alec Guinness, writing in his journals of going to the theatre (stage, rarely movie) by himself in his advanced years.  I think there's something to be said for the solitary experience; it leaves one freer to become immersed in the story and to critique the art.

By the time I came to see The King's Speech it had already amassed awards and acclaim a-plenty, and has become an odds-on favorite going into the 83rd Annual Academy Awards.  I was mindful of those nominations, of course; I couldn't unring the bell and enter the screening oblivious to them.  My solution to the bias was to look for reasons to appreciate the nominations, rather than expect the film to justify them.  It didn't take long for me to appreciate The King's Speech and its nominations.

The premise, for those uninformed, is that this is a biopic about the man who would become King George VI of the United Kingdom, and how he labored to overcome a lifelong speech impediment which was, of course, a great hindrance to a man of his position.  He wasn't even supposed to become king, except that his elder brother--as shown in the film--chose the love of a married American woman over the throne.  The drama of the royal family isn't shown here as sensationalism, but instead as the kinds of conflicts typical of any family...only within the context of having to maintain a superficial appearance of unity for the sake of the public that most of us don't have to lead or appease.

I wrote in my review of Black Swan that what impressed me about Natalie Portman's performance was that it is a physically demanding role, and that she is in literally every scene.  Firth is in nearly every scene of The King's Speech, and delivers every line he has with affliction.  It goes beyond mere stammering; Firth hesitates, gags, displays frustration and looks around helplessly every time he opens his mouth.  We know Firth doesn't have this impediment, but we do believe he is aggravated by not being able to simply speak his lines.  I don't think Firth displays the same kind of range as does Portman, but the nature of this role is one of a subtler kind of growth.  Audiences have been surprised, I think, by how eagerly they found themselves rooting for this one guy to overcome something as seemingly trivial as stammering.  Hopefully, those audiences left with a greater appreciation for those who have endured their own speech impediments.

Geoffrey Rush has been a favorite of mine since I saw him in The Tailor of Panama (in a somewhat similar role, really) and here he deftly remains the inferior of Rush's Albert, Duke of York while managing to steal the show.  I, and the rest of the audience, laughed often throughout the movie and nearly always it was Rush who had provoked us.  I'm not sure I've ever seen Helena Bonham Carter outside of a Tim Burton production, but she shines here.  And I now want to see Timothy Spall play Winston Churchill in another movie.

Maybe you don't care about the royal family, and historical/period productions do little for you.  That's okay. The King's Speech is, ultimately, about a man struggling to overcome an affliction, and to dig through his own perceived weaknesses to find his inner strength.  Those who are content to wait for the Blu-ray Disc won't be cheated out of much, but I'm glad I caught it during its theatrical run, as the grandiosity of the production design is worthy of the big screen.

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