When the Oscars come around, I usually haven’t seen any of the Best Picture nominees. On a good year, maybe one. I don’t really do biopics. This year, however, I actually was interested in a biopic, one of the Academy’s big frontrunners: The King’s Speech.
I can’t say much about the super-hyped battle between The Social Network and The King’s Speech; I haven’t seen The Social Network yet and probably won’t for awhile. I can say, however, that The King’s Speech was excellent, and that the acting performances of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush were masterful.
Everyone pretty much knows what this is about by now, right? Bertie (Firth) is the Duke of York and becomes King George VI after his daddy dies and his older brother abdicates the throne. Awesome, right? Well, not so much, because Bertie also happens to be a pretty serious stammerer, and his public speeches are really quite painful to listen to. His wife, Elizabeth (The Queen Mother, played here by Helena Bonham Carter) seeks out an unusual speech therapist, an Australian named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to treat his impediment.
1.) The King’s Speech is a biopic . . . and an English one at that . . . but it doesn’t feel like a history lesson to me or an inspirational sermon. Even though it is an inspiring true story, the movie is more about this wonderful friendship that develops between Bertie and Lionel. The history, in a way, is almost incidental, and I think I connected to the movie more because of that.
2.) That being said, I did actually do some research on King George VI after watching the film. I actually became somewhat personally invested in these people’s lives, and I cannot tell you how unusual that is for me with non-fiction material.
3.) The King’s Speech is a well-crafted movie all around, but one element stands out well above the others: the acting. The performances in this movie elevate the film to another level. I’ll take the actors one by one, starting with Colin Firth.
I’m pretty critical when I watch actors try to affect a stammer because, generally, they’re no more convincing than when actors pretend they’re swallowing something. So many of them seem to focus on the letters of the stutter, the t-t-t, instead of the actual struggle to get the word out. Colin Firth, on the other hand, is impeccable here as Bertie. His frustration and his anger and his panic and desperation are almost palpable in every syllable of his performance.
I also loved watching Firth’s interactions with everyone else in the film, his wife, his kids, and, of course, Lionel Logue.
Their scenes together were freaking magic, man.
4.) Okay, I’ve mentioned I’m crap with accents, right? I constantly mix up English and Australian, Irish and Scottish, that kind of thing. Usually, though, if you point it out to me, I’ll listen harder and figure out where I got it wrong. Geoffrey Rush, though? Really? He doesn’t even sound remotely Australian to me.
Accents aside, Geoffrey Rush is awesome as Lionel Logue. He’s quirky without having to scream it; his character’s vibrant without being too over-the-top. I could sit in a theater for two hours and watch nothing but Rush and Firth talking to one another. They both flesh their characters out in a way that is truly something to see.
5.) Helena Bonham-Carter is very good, too, although she doesn’t have quite as much to do as Firth or Rush. That being said, I enjoyed seeing her as the Queen Mother. I tend to associate Bonham-Carter with roles like Bellatrix Lestrange and Mrs. Lovett, you know, dark and twisted and not exactly subtle, quiet, or restrained. This isn’t meant to be a knock to her talent; not every role is meant to be restrained. (And how I do adore her insane hair and pouty lips and scene-chewing in Harry Potter; Bellatrix Lestrange rocks my socks, man.) But seeing her in The King’s Speech was definitely something different for me, and I do like getting to see more of an actor’s range.
6.) Michael Gambon (more Harry Potter alums, woo hoo!) has a small part in this film, maybe six minutes total, but man, he works those six minutes. There’s this one scene where he’s all lost and confused, and I just wanted to give him a hug. And I didn’t even like his character. Such is the awesome power of Michael Gambon.
7.) Guy Pearce also pops up here, as Bertie’s older brother, Edward. (Older brother, ha! I didn’t buy that one for a second, sorry, makeup crew. Guy Pearce is seven years younger than Colin Firth. I checked.) I haven’t seen Guy Pearce in awhile, and I’ve missed the guy. He’s good here, too, although he’s kind of an unconscionable bastard to his brother.
Guy! You are not allowed to be mean to Colin Firth! That is not okay!
8.) Also, when Colin Firth starts crying at one point? (Sorry, folks, it’s an Oscar-nominated movie. I don’t consider that a spoiler.) I totally started tearing up. I mean, that’s not much of a feat, but still. Dammit.
9.) According to imdb, the script was originally written with Paul Bettany in mind for the lead role. I like Paul Bettany a lot . . . but Colin Firth did such a phenomenal job. It’s really hard to picture anybody else but him in the role.
10.) Of course, it’s not all acting. The script may not be as imaginative as Inception’s or as idiosyncratic as I assume The Social Network’s is, but it is well-written, emotional, and funny. Humor’s an exceptionally important element in pretty much any drama, and I think it’s balanced well here. Some bits of dialogue that I liked:
“Do you know any jokes?”
“. . . timing isn’t my strong suit.”
“Why should I waste my time listening to you?”
“Because I have a voice!”
“They’ve all been knighted.”
“Makes it official, then.”
“Do you know the F word?”
“However this turns out, I don’t know how to thank you.”
11.) I’ve been trying to cast around for any problems I had with the movie, issues with pacing, plot, screenplay, editing . . . and I’ve been coming up pretty much short. Like I said, I don’t know if it’s better than The Social Network or not, and I’m sure you all have many opinions on the matter yourself, but what I can say is this: The King’s Speech is a wonderful movie, and claiming that it’s the “easy, Oscar pick” and therefore worthless is really kind of cheap. The movie’s deserves every bit of the praise it’s gotten. And I think the only problem I have with the entire film is Jennifer Ehle’s performance as Lionel Logue’s wife. She’s not a particularly large part, so I don’t consider it a huge flaw, but in the first couple of scenes you see her in . . . something just seems off. I don’t quite like how she plays off of Geoffrey Rush, although she does improve for me later in the film.
But, really, that’s about it. That’s about the only thing I didn’t like. Otherwise, The King’s Speech was so worth my $6.50 matinee ticket.
12.) In conclusion, I have one word for you all: tits.
Er, it’ll make sense when you see the film. But, seriously. Best. Scene. Ever.