The King's Speech
These are just the Royal Pajamas.

Theatrical Release Date: 12/17/2010
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce, Jennifer Ehle, Timothy Spall

Golden Mug2010 Golden Mug

Best Actor (Colin Firth)

Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler)


I’m seeing double.

One of the films garnering a lot of pre-Oscar buzz is director Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech”.

Starring Colin Firth as Prince Albert (who would then become King George VI), the story focuses on the issues the Monarch had with speech impediments. At this time in history (mid 1920′s and into the late 1930′s), the increasing popularity of radio meant that an important manner in which to maintain confidence amongst the populace was to give speeches.

King George V (played by Dumbledore Michael Gambon) had a rich and eloquent speaking voice, only further increasing the pressure on the would-be-King whose stammer increased exponentially under duress. And so, Albert’s wife Elizabeth (Bellatrix Helena Bonham Carter) enlists the help of an Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

Logue’s methods are unorthodox and far from being in accordance with the normal social boundaries one usually respects when in the presence of royalty but the connection between the two men is what makes the film work so well.

For those worried this is some stuffy, quasi-period piece that only those under the nominal rule of Queen Elizabeth II (daughter of, you guessed it, Elizabeth) can understand, don’t fret. Screenwriter David Seidler has crafted one of the wittiest scripts of the year, blending the historical and dramatic elements in with some very clever comedy.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the two men delivering the lines are Firth and Rush (that combination sounds like some terrible fraternity tradition). The pair of actors share a delightful chemistry, very much like the stiff upper lip version of “The Odd Couple”. Rush embodies Logue’s clever and playful techniques to ease George into a headspace where the pressure doesn’t overwhelm him. And Firth has always been excellent at playing characters who feel a bit awkward and peripheral, adding a welcoming and endearing spirit to the role.

Both give strong performances and it will be a shock to see Firth’s name left off of many award lists (though only time will tell if he wins an Oscar partially due to the acting community giving Jeff Bridges his due last year, over what I feel was Firth’s superior performance in “A Single Man“, a la Russell Crowe winning for “Gladiator” after losing for “The Insider”; James Franco’s excellent turn in “127 Hours” being the prime opposition this time around).

Sadly though, not everything in this film came up roses. Casting Guy Pearce as King Edward VIII seemed out of place, especially considering the wealth of British actors who could have played the part. Was Voldemort Ralph Fiennes not available? (They even had Wormtail Timothy Spall portray Winston Churchill after all.)

Also, as much as I love Alexandre Desplat’s compositions, I don’t blame him for Hooper’s decision to punch up a piece of classical music over the climactic speech, almost drowning out elements of George VI announcing Britain’s entrance into World War II (a friend said it was Beethoven, which adds a touch of irony I wonder was intentional or not).

This wasn’t the only problem with Hooper’s direction (who didn’t impress me with “The Damned United” in terms of its stewardship). From the outset, his camera placement and shot selection seemed to interfere with the nearly sublime performances. The film still works because of the script and the cast, as their quality rises above the director’s heavy handedness, but he seemed determine to stick his fingerprint on too many scenes which required no more effort than the pressing of the record button to be absolutely effective. Even the ending, which plays almost like a pure saccharine drip, needed less of his handiwork and missed a golden opportunity to cut to black right where the final speech concludes (so I’ll pass some of this blame to the editor as well).

Still, despite Hooper’s insistence of subconsciously reminding the audience that he was in the room with the actors, “The King’s Speech” is one of the year’s best and earns a 4 out of 5. Firth’s performance isn’t to be missed and fans of well-written screenplays (full of wit while also managing to nicely develop archetypes into three dimensional characters) will have a lot to enjoy here.

As a bit of a sidenote, I’m amused at the slight controversy surrounding the rating for this, which the MPAA deemed an ‘R’ thanks solely to the sheer number of obscenities related to the King’s efforts to overcome his speech impediment. It again highlights the hypocrisy of film ratings, when it comes to sex and language versus violence. Sure, you may not want a young child to imitate a sailor on leave in some exotic port, but I’m fairly certain that the teenager stripping your cupboards bare each night has heard a few naughty words at this point and either chooses to use them regularly or keeps them on hand for special occasions.

If you’re thinking of seeing this and wondering if it’s appropriate for certain members of your inner circle, just keep in mind that there are no fisticuffs (boo!), no bare breasts (whee!), and no CGI monsters (oh!) of any kind here. It’s all about the words, both literally and figuratively.

4 out of 5