Monday, December 27, 2010

Long Live This "King"

I have rarely been as prepared to love a movie like I was ready to love "The King's Speech."  And I have rarely been so worried that my expectations would be dashed.  I am happy to say that in every department, this is an outstanding film that met and exceeded my expectations, one that provides fine acting, superb writing and emotional satisfaction, one that deserves to be seen, one that will mellow with age and will be worthy of repeat visits.

Initially I was intrigued by the cast--Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham-Carter--all of whom have appeared in movies that have become personal favorites, and whose work has brought me much pleasure: "Apartment Zero", "A Room With A View", "Howard's End", "Shine", "A Single Man".  I took notice when I heard about the film's early triumphs at festivals like Toronto and Aspen. 

Soon I learned that the film was based on historical fact, and told a story I was ashamedly unaware of: the personal account of England's King George VI, reluctantly thrust into the throne after his brother's abdication, father of the future Queen Elizabeth, and his terror of public speaking because of a heavy stammer.  A well-known Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue entered the King's life at the urgent request of George's wife, the Queen Mother.  A therapeutic relationship helped to repair a broken monarchy, and a lifelong friendship developed between the two men, King and Commoner.

The story about the development of the screenplay by veteran writer David Seidler was a terrific and heart-tugging story in itself.  Seidler overcame his own speech problems, inspired in part by hearing radio speeches by the King in war-torn Britain before moving to America. The script shows a deep understanding of the fear and frustration this deficiency produces, and demonstrates a great love of these characters. 

The dialog here is appropriately expository but also filled with humor, rage, and touching affirmations of love and friendship. What at first appear merely as sessions in speech therapy are soon given urgency and suspense, as world events and reactions to them are about to be shaped by this world leader's words.

In light of American leaders and their public speaking skills, this movie takes on an even greater significance, cleverly hidden but unavoidable nonetheless.  How wonderful it is for a film to champion the importance of words and their delivery, and how encouraging to know that it is possible for anyone to excel and succeed by improving one's ability to speak well.

The film version of "The King's Speech" is like a slice of the epic and lovely biographical book of the same name by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi.  The film telescopes incidents for dramatic effect, preferring to focus on the developing relationship between Logue and the King, the story of the abdication, and the incidents leading up to England entering WWII.  This focus allows the film a number of moving and riveting exchanges between Firth and Rush.

Viewers may also be surprised at how lively and funny these dialogues are, especially viewers who are accustomed to the reverent tone of many British costume dramas.

Tom Hooper's direction brings us close to the characters, and effectively paces the story so that the chain of events is natural and easily understood. It is a prime example of classic filmmaking using modern vernacular, especially the slightly distorting lenses to accentuate the king's stage fright, and a lithe and mobile camera to keep us in the action and avoid the usual stately static. 

Hooper and Seidler build to the final speech of the film in which George calls his country to arms.  This is a terrific scene, cut and photographed to a wonderful orchestral score, so that Rush's Logue is like an intimate and amusing conductor, guiding the ever-confident King through a small symphony of words and images.

Helena Bonham-Carter has matured into a performer of such ease, such beauty and grace, that her portrayal of the Queen Mother connects to the viewer like an old friend, warm and supportive. The role is limited in the script but she does so much with her eyes, her voice, or a determined movement of her head.  She is, as always, a welcome and compelling screen presence.

I can write an entire post about the work done here by Colin Firth. Those who have never seen him before may be convinced that the actor actually stammers: the hesitations, tightened neck muscles, constrictions of the throat, and frustrated outbursts seem natural, and Firth is sensitive enough not to fall into caricature   Layered among Firth's technical skill is his achievement of a satisfying emotional arc; Firth makes us understand the royal protocol and his increasing willingness to break down his defenses and share the childhood trauma that contributed to difficulty speaking.  Firth is simply wonderful here.  I hope he enjoys the inevitable accolades and attention he so easily deserves.

Let's not forget Geoffrey Rush. His interpretation of Logue may be broader than is evident from the biography, but the fearlessness of his delivery convinces us that he can handle a reluctant King.  Rush is a consummate performer who understands this character completely, and pulls out all the stops to bring us an unforgettably brusque and hilarious portrayal.  Rush supplies much of Seidler's humor, and is unexpectedly noble and heartbreaking as the film draws to a triumphant close. 

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Ah, awards... "The King's Speech"  is a worthy contender...  And I hope the awards recognition brings more people to the theater.  I loved this film, in a much different way than "Black Swan" and "The Kids Are All Right".  Please, can the Academy wrangle a 3-way tie for Best Picture?  If not, I would cheer if "The King's Speech" was singled out...


  1. I love all three of the actors here, though, Bonham-Carter would have goen me to see it alone. She's such an interesting performer.

  2. Now my anticipation only continues to grow. Aaargh, can't wait!

  3. Eric, Andrew,

    Thanks for checking in...

    By the way, I have editied the piece slightly, for better flow...AND to include a paragraph about HBC, which, incredibly, I left off earlier. Check it out..I think it's a better piece now.)

    I really hope you both enjoy this film....

  4. Tom, you really have a gift for writing great reviews about important films. I agree that The King's Speech, Kids, and Black Swan all deserve the best picture Oscar ...this film may have the edge given the epic scope and powerful/uplifting ending.