OBPC #83: The King’s Speech, 2010

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The King’s Speech (2010): Dir. Tom Hooper.  Written by David Seidler.  Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, and Derek Jacobi. Rated R for some language. Running time: 118 minutes.

king speechExhausted from modern warfare, child impoverishment, and existential crises, the Academy went back to basics with its selection of the British period drama. Appealing to Oscar traditionalists, the film also proved Colin Firth (relegated to cuckold in two previous Oscar winners) could carry a film on his own. It’s a modest but satisfying production that may have received flack for beating out some more high-profile nominees that year.

England in the 1930s has seen the advent of radio, and the pressure is on Prince Albert (eventually King George VI) to improve his oratory—and eliminate his stammering. Exhausting his royally appointed speech therapists, George’s wife Elizabeth suggests an unorthodox speech therapist named Lionel Logue. But as the speech therapy sessions begin, Lionel realizes George’s problems may be more psychological than physiological.

The film works by exploring the larger conflicts implied by the king’s stuttering problem.  We see and feel the enormous pressure on George’s shoulders as he reluctantly accepts the responsibility to lead Britain through impending wartime.  Hooper and cinematographer Danny Cohen imbue London with drab greys and blacks, foretelling the coming war.  But it’s not all dour—comedy and courage comprise the budding friendship between George and Lionel.

Yet even with its stylized aesthetic, the story is pure Hollywood convention with few if any surprises.  Its greatest strengths may lie in a cast which is always impressive to watch—Helena Bonham Carter makes you forget her wilder antics, and Geoffrey Rush threatens to steal every scene.  Yet it’s Colin Firth who nails the loneliness and eventual courage of a put-upon king—almost making you look past the familiar beats of a formulaic script.

You might argue that King’s Speech never transcends a good Masterpiece special, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It may have modest goals, but at least it delivers on them all.

Next film: The Artist, 2011


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