Just a few short months ago a we witnessed a royal occasion bigger perhaps even than that of the wedding of William and Kate. Riding a wave of critical acclaim, Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech surprised many by winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards, as well as getting nods for lead actor and director. With the release of the DVD and Blu-ray, away from the hype and intense media attention, we get an opportunity to reappraise the film and ask the question – was it really the best film of 2010?
The King’s Speech tells the true story of King George VI, played by Colin Firth, who ascended to the throne when his older brother abdicated in disgrace. This was an event that he had dreaded, as he was afflicted by a severe speech impediment. Public speaking was impossible for him, and a King who can not speak publicly is really not a King at all. Enter Geoffrey Rush’s Australian vocal coach, Lionel Logue, whose unorthodox methods are at first unpalatable to the straight-laced and traditional future King. The two however strike up a close friendship, and the King begins to slowly but steadily improve his speech.
Films based on a true story are always a tricky prospect. True they hold an emotional weight that strikes a chord with audiences by default, but they can be notoriously hard to structure. Director Hooper fights with this throughout the movie, and whilst the plot hits the right points at the right times, it is what comes in-between that causes the movie to drag. It is hard to make scenes of speech therapy thrilling, and though the banter between Firth’s stiff King George and Rush’s roguish therapist is snappy and humourous, the montages of their work together end up being comedic for the wrong reasons. In the end, the ridiculousness of a film based on this type of therapy cannot be contained, despite the best efforts of director, editor and cast.
The performances are also a little hit and miss. Firth was critically lauded, but his portrayal of anger involves suddenly and sharply RAISING HIS VOICE, and in his emotional moments there are a lot of quiet and meaningful pauses. It is acting 101, and though he does a good job of showing the frustration of not being able to make yourself heard, that little spark is just lacking. It only really appears in his scenes with Rush, who is ironically rather more restrained than usual, when really he could have done with playing bigger to contrast with the stiffness of Firth’s King George. Guy Pearce as the King’s brother, who falls from grace following a very public divorce, seems very out-of-place, though admittedly his character obviously feels the same way, so you could argue it is a very effective portrayal. The real leading light here is Helena Bonham-Carter as King George’s long-suffering wife. Showing great range with relatively little screen time, she lights up the screen in every scene she has.
Director Hooper and his DP do a very traditional job of shooting The King’s Speech, giving it all a very traditional and regal air, with tall and narrow cinematography, and very little movement. This kind of film does not beg modern steadicam or sweeping crane shots, so this fits the atmosphere perfectly. With a relatively low-budget, the crew have done a wonderful job with the costumes and props, you never once feel you are watching anything other than the period in which the film is set.
The story at the heart of The King’s Speech, a man fighting to overcome his demons, both physical and emotional, is told, and told well. Everyone involved has done either a good, or very good job. There is however nothing truly special here. The historical plot points are very interesting, the whole affair is very entertaining, and by no means could The King’s Speech be considered a bad film. It just isn’t a great one. How it won out at the Oscars over an artistic masterpiece like Black Swan boggles my mind, and backs up the whole concept of a film being ‘Oscar bait’. I liked The King’s Speech, but i didn’t love it. I just could not help feeling that there was something more required to make it something special.
On a final note, the end of the film is, for me, a bit of a mis-step. It is unfortunate, certainly, that King George’s moment of triumph came at such a time. But when a movie ends with the King of England overjoyed, and smiling to himself, as the wheels are set in motion for one of the worst wars in history, a war that took the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians, a rethink is needed. The rousing music, the celebratory atmosphere of the King and his family, is ill-judged. I appreciate that it is based on real events, but i would hope the true King was well aware of the grave severity of the situation, and that any smile would have left his lips within but a moment as he contemplated the struggle ahead.
Bazmann – you can follow me on Twitter at