Saturday, April 23, 2011

Movie Review: The King’s Speech

The King's Speech
Directed by Tom Hooper
Running Time: 118 minutes
Originally Released: December 24, 2010

* * * * (out of four)

One of my favorite scenes in cinematic history is from Milos Forman’s Amadeus, when Mozart dictates from his deathbed to Salieri the symphony that at that moment exists only in Mozart’s mind. It is a beautifully filmed and very powerful scene. As I watched 2011’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, The King’s Speech, I was more than once reminded of that masterful scene in Amadeus. That the delivering of a political speech could be made so musical—both literally and figuratively, as one who watches the film learns—is assuredly mesmerizing, but it is just one of the merits possessed by The King’s Speech. If you think the film is simply about a stammering politician’s fear of public speaking, you are wrong. It is about self-confidence, self-acceptance, acceptance of acceptance, courage, honesty, friendship, and just about every other virtuous human characteristic. The fascinating historical backdrop is just the icing on the cake.

Colin Firth stars as Prince Albert, the Duke of York, who became Britain’s King George VI after his brother abdicated the throne in 1936. Known as “Bertie” to his family, Prince Albert struggles with the public speaking that is so often a part of his political duties. Bertie stammers, a problem that escalates when he is put into high pressure situations like delivering a speech to an overcrowded Wembley Stadium. Bertie’s wife, Elizabeth (played by Helena Bonham Carter), has tried to help her husband by seeking doctors who are trained in speech therapy, but to little avail. Eventually, Elizabeth happens upon an Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush), who agrees to help Bertie provided that the prince accepts Logue’s unorthodox practices. The first encounter between Logue and the prince proves contentious, but it also provides the first glimmer of genuine hope that Bertie has ever had. Before long, Logue becomes one of Bertie’s most trusted confidants, the therapy extending well beyond the mechanics of speech production, as the prince deals with his father’s death, his brother’s ascension to and subsequent abdication of the throne, and of course, Bertie’s own coronation.

I will admit that I didn’t have much hope in The King’s Speech before I watched it. I knew all the hype surrounding the film, particularly that it had won Best Picture from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but I took it for granted that the film would be vastly overrated. So many of the movies that receive a great deal of praise turn out to be mediocre, and that seems especially true of period pieces, which the Academy—often unfairly—reverences. This time around, however, the Academy did right. The King’s Speech is an excellently crafted, beautifully filmed, and brilliantly written film carried on the back of two terrific performances. Firth’s Oscar for Best Actor is well-deserved; it is a pity Rush was not extended the same courtesy. Though he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, I will assume he lost only because he had previously picked up a Best Actor trophy for 1996’s Shine. (The Academy is stingy about giving out multiple awards to the same person. Funny enough, that makes Rush’s loss a political one. Ah, politics!) To be sure, Rush steals the film, and indeed, it is the first scene shared between Rush and Firth that demonstrates the film’s greatness. It was during their first exchange that I was struck upon the head with the realization that I was watching something quite grand. The quality of the film did not waver from that point on.

Perhaps I should mention that Bonham Carter was also nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role. To that, I offer a most resounding “meh.” It’s a baffling nomination, in my opinion, if not for the fact that such unwarranted nominations are rather prevalent in the supporting actress category. By default, these nominations tend to go rather indiscriminately to the supporting actresses from whatever films are filling up the more prestigious categories, such as Best Picture and Best Director. Bonham Carter lost out to The Fighter’s Melissa Leo, who was only slightly more deserving, while Rush lost to The Fighter’s Christian Bale (an admittedly great performance, though not the one I wish the Academy would have recognized with a trophy). The King’s Speech did nab the Best Director award for Tom Hooper’s work, however, which is an appropriate bestowal. I’m actually finding myself desirous to watch the movie again. That doesn’t happen very often, especially with British period dramas. The fact that I am eager to re-watch a movie about saying a lot—well, that says a lot.


  1. Such an enthusiastic review. People here..within the family.. are talking about this movie. Dad really wants to see it. I didn't know what it was about, had no idea about the Duke having a stuttering problem. How awful that would be for someone in such a position. Now we MUST see this..your excitement ignites our passions for such stories.

  2. This was definitely a great film, but I don't think Christian Bale should be handing over his trophy to Rush by any means. This is not because Rush's performance wasn't spectacular, but Bale's performance was spectacular-er. :)