Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Critic's Oscar Best Picture Pick: The King's Speech

Image courtesy of the Weinstein Company

The King's Speech, based on the best-selling novel by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, follows the extraordinary true story of King George VI and how his speech therapist Lionel Logue - using unconventional methods - literally gives the monarch the voice he needs to lead the people.

Could there be a better man to play the unsure king that the British actor Colin Firth? He is nothing short of stunning in this role, with a speech impediment that not only shifts and changes with the character's moods, but never breaks for one moment. It must have been an incredible challenge to hone and develop such an ability without seeming insincere or inconsistent, but somehow, Firth rises to the challenge. And Geoffrey Rush as Lionel is the perfect foil for the stuffy proper king, letting not the man's royal birth or stature get in the way of him doing his job as a therapist.

As overtones of war began to creep up on England, George (Bertie, to his friends) is found drawn into the struggle when his older brother Edward (played magnificently by the urbane, if now slightly aging Guy Pierce) abdicates from the throne for the love of a divorced woman, whom the Church of England will never allow him to take as his queen. With radio quickly becoming the newest social medium of communication, Bertie, now king, finds himself met with what seems to be an unsurmountable challenge -communicating directly with his subjects during a time of war.

But through a series of odd excercises and practice after frustrating practice, "Bertie" succeeds in giving his first speech that announces England will become engaged with the rest of the world in defeating Adolf Hitler and his Nazi army. Tantor Media, the company that has produced the audiobook of The King's Speech, has made the actual famous broadcast available for people to listen to for FREE right here.

It must be said that Helena Bonham Carter is sublime. It is so refreshing to see her in something other than a Tim Burton film; being given a "serious" role for once. She plays the "Queen Mum" Elizabeth's mother, with great aplomb and sensitivity. It is the kind of role the reminds me to never dismiss the acting chops of this actress when I have so often wavered on writing her off as only being worthy of playing the weird, gothic roles that the father of her children, director Tim Burton, so amply dishes out to her. Had it not been for little Hailee Steinfeld rocking my socks so much as the vengeance-thirsty Mattie Ross in True Grit, I would be all for Ms. Carter getting the Oscar as best supporting actress. But the truth remains that as a character, she is a true treasure in this film.

The cinematography and details are perfection - right down to the Queen Mum's corgis. In one great moment of well-placed levity, Bertie almost trips over one of the little dogs on his way to making THE speech, illiciting a response of something on the order of "damn dogs." The camera work is oddly different, sometimes putting Bertie in the corner of the screen rather than the center, indicating in a literal way how much Bertie does not want to have the focus on him, and yet cannot altogether avoid it. Lionel's nervous, and yet determined handling of the situation (his insistence on calling the King "Bertie" despite the monarch's constant protestations is one small example)despite the vast social gap between them and their social status is perfection, and it is a direct result of his smooth easy nature ultimately closes that gap between them.

And face it - speech impediment or no, who doesn't know what it feels like to have that cold sweat, that moment of dread, that feeling of the crowd drawing itself on forever like an endless ocean, right before we have to do any kind of public speaking? British director Tom Hooper taps into that common dread each of us have and so when, by the end, the speech is given successfully, I found myself rooting for Bertie as if it was a personal triumph within myself, as well.

I hope this film wins best picture because it has it all - a true story, history, extraordinary performances, evocative storytelling, and an uplifting ending that all of us can relate to. Truly a film that will last into the ages.


  1. I agree heartily that Colin Firth and the director earn their chops for making King George's speech impediment permanent, not just a little bit of insecurity that he could overcome with a little extra self-confidence. As a disabled person who is constantly told that I could do better if I just tried harder, I could relate to that on a very deep level. If trying could make a handicap go away, we'd all sprout wings and fly. But it's the more admirable to accept one's broken self and still go on doing what one needs to do.

    My only comment: the Church of England was Protestant, not Catholic, so Edward and Mrs. Simpson could theoretically have gotten married in the church. But the idea of Wallis's children becoming the royal family was too much for the aristocracy to accept. An American! And from Baltimore, no less!

  2. I haven't been able to see this film yet, but now I definitely will!