Originally Reviewed – 12/14/2010
Ah, yes. Prestige Season. The special time of year when the air turns crisper, the season turns jolly and the thoughts of film executives turn fondly to awards season. Blockbusters may bring in the bucks but awards bring in the margins and if a studio’s three million dollar pet project can get some Oscar buzz, it’s all profit for Mama Hollywood. Even better, now is the time when us film geeks get to see the good stuff, the stuff that allows us to wax poetic over pints about films nobody else in the bar will ever leave their homes to watch. While this can be seen as putting on airs of snobbery to the Transformers crowd, to us film lovers this is our time of year to gloat about our hobby and revel in the cream of the cinematic crop. And with a ballot leading seven Golden Globe nominations, The King’s Speech is definitely on the tip of film foodies’ lips this December, and for very good reason.
Providing a bare synopsis of this movie fails in two ways. One, it makes the film sound haughty and overly high-minded and two, it makes the thing sound unbearably boring. Allow me to demonstrate:
“The Kings Speech is the true story of the Duke of York, who, after the sudden abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII, has to deal with the political realities of a lifelong speech impediment. With the help of his wife and an unorthodox speech therapist, the newly crowned king must overcome this obstacle and make an important speech to a country on the brink of war”.
Christ, I put myself to sleep while typing that! I think the name Edward, all by itself, has the same effect on me as Ambien.
As you can see, nothing brings me down more than a standard biopic and thank the heavens, The King’s Speech is anything but. In fact, director Tom Hooper does an outstanding job of balancing historic accuracy, real human drama and an uncanny knack for humor in his latest film. While the movie is shot, at times, in a very standard biopic way, Hooper treats the film like a stage performance, giving the characters room to breathe, interact and co-exist. Also, it’s worth noting again how damn funny this film is without ever getting silly, saccharine or overly light. What results is a well balanced character study of a visionary doctor and a tortured monarch.
Like most films of this type, the setting and dressing would be nothing without some fine performances and this is where The Kings Speech shines brightest. Colin Firth plays the speech addled duke and does so with a conviction, honesty and integrity that is marvelous to watch. Unlike the disappointing A Single Man, Firth is unencumbered by high minded photography and is instead allowed to encompass the spirit of King George VI without the overly directed meddling of Firth’s last effort. Brimming with subtlety, humor and raw emotion, Firth’s performance just might win him the Best Actor Oscar he missed out on last year.
That being said, if the Academy glosses over Firth, then they better hand over the trophy to the man who plays the good doctor, Geoffrey Rush. In playing the politically irreverent doctor, Rush also does a great job in balancing humor, empathy and an unwavering knowledge in the human condition. Firth and Rush complement each other wonderfully and every minute they are on screen together is a joy to watch. Helena Bonham Carter also does a fine job as Firth’s patient wife and the underrated Guy Pearce is well cast as the bad boy King Edward VIII, rounding out one of the best casts of the year.
All told, The Kings Speech is on the short list for winning Best Picture this year and for very good reason. One of the trickiest things to achieve in any artistic endeavor is balance. Lean too much to one side of the emotional spectrum, be it too dramatic, too funny or too sappy and you lose a portion of the audience. What The King’s Speech achieves better than any Oscar season film I’ve seen this year is reach a point where literally anybody could watch this film and enjoy it. Hopefully the Oscar buzz surrounding this movie is enough to propel it to wide screening status as I truly feel anybody and everybody will find something to love from this movie. A sublimely made film in almost every aspect, The King’s Speech is one of the easiest film going recommendations I’ve made this year and is a slam dunk nominee for Best Picture. While I would have whistled a different tune after seeing 127 Hours a month before, the accessibility, charm and stunning acting all make this my current pick for film’s highest honor.
Score – 100%