Saturday, February 19, 2011

The King's Speech

The King's Speech is the charming, twelve-time Oscar-nominated film about a soon-to-be king overcoming his stammer through the help of a speech therapist. It basically boils down to the standard and overdone "overcoming adversity" storyline that for whatever reason the Academy seems to drool over (which I'll address in more detail in my upcoming Oscars roundup).

This movie pretty much starts and ends with its performances (although there are a few other nice trinkets). Colin Firth gives a very genuine performance as King George VI, or "Bertie." The pressures he feels of becoming the new king and having to deal with his speech impediment come across absolutely, and his stammering speech is thoroughly convincing. Firth is very good, but Geoffrey Rush in the supporting role of speech coach Lionel Logue overshadows Firth in many of the scenes they share. Rush brings such a lightheartedness and humanity to the role, and is really the one to bring Bertie around despite his insecurities and self-doubts. Considering the roles both actors were given, Rush brought much more to the table than did Firth. Helena Bonham Carter was good as well, but was given too little screen time to really showcase or judge her performance.

Due in part to Rush's performance, the film had a charming humor to it that I wasn't expecting. There were quite a bit of comic relief that made the film more accessible, such as Lionel's wordplay and jokes and the swearing tirade Bertie goes on as a speech therapy technique; how often to you get to hear The Duke of York say "fuck" ten times in one minute? It was a bit out of place at times, particularly near the end, preparing for his first speech as king, but overall it was a nice touch.

Bertie's speech impediment also serves as a nice metaphor for the difference between nobility and the common man. Bertie's older brother Edward, his predecessor as king, resigns so that he may marry his love, a divorced woman. Bertie feels strongly the pressures of the Royal Family, while his brother hands over the crown so that he may marry his love. Edward has learned how to balance the stresses of nobility with his passions; Bertie has not. The pressure he feels as king and his desire to be like the common man causes his indecision, and hence his stammer.

This metaphor is understandable, but it's not all that relatable, especially in this age and place. Most of us cannot relate to the amount of pressure that exists in having to be the voice for an entire nation. In this country, at least, the pressures of nobility and family heritage are non existent unless you happen to have a former president or multi-billionaire in your family tree. The most basic ideas of conflict and pressure comes across in the film, but the specific degrees and natures of those pressures are from an antiquated society, and not easily relatable to today's moviegoer.

The photography in the film is worth discussing. There are many nicely composed and angled shots in terms of where the actors are in frame, but the art direction is not very noteworthy. There isn't a lot of symbolism, if any, used in the photography. The design of the costumes and sets puts you into 1920s Britain, but the photography is not used to really drive home the themes and tensions at work in the story. Given that the film is not extremely relatable, some cinematography that helps convey the stress that Bertie feels would have greatly helped the viewer understand his plight.
The King's Speech mostly amounts to a film that exists to showcase a great performance, which kind of bothers me. Films should be about the combination of story-telling and photography; this is the simple nature of film because of the combining of visual and auditory mediums, and those two aspects need to be in balance. When photography isn't given much importance, and story-telling and acting are given heavy importance, you might as well be watching a play. Even if you accept that, you're left with a play in which the dominant performance comes from a supporting actor, a play that's difficult to relate to.
The King's Speech is a good film that I enjoyed watching, but I wouldn't really pay to see it again or buy the DVD, and I certainly wouldn't give it twelve Oscar nods.

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