Monday, March 7, 2011

The King's Speech (2010)

Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, et al
Rated R, 118 minutes

This is the film that bested "Inception," "True Grit," "Black Swan," "The Social Network" and others for Best Picture.

"The King's Speech" tells us about Prince Albert, Duke of York (Firth), and his crippling speech problems. The public witnessed Berty stammer and pause through an awful speech at Wembley Stadium in 1925. After numerous attempts to correct the problem, he's all but given up. An icy meeting with a therapist named Lionel Logue (Rush) eventually reveals to Berty that there could be a cure. His speech improves, along with his trust for Logue, who tries and tries to discover the psychological issues behind the prince's stammer.

While the Duke deals with diction, his father King George V is dying, and frictions with Hitler and the rest of the world are growing. With his brother out of the picture and marrying his mistress, Berty will ascend to the throne as King Stammerer if he doesn't work quickly.

I've heard "Social Network" described as a movie with trendy modern subject matter that ends up boiling down to classic human elements.
The same is true here, albeit flipped chronologically. The locale and time period act more as a backdrop to an enjoyable story about a royal and commoner developing a friendship. Our hero overcomes his demons and makes the world proud. The focus and enjoyment here were such that you forgot some characters even existed as the movie progressed. The comedy elements were welcome, and done well, but mixed oddly for me with the sleepier and more solemn tone other scenes had. The R rating is frankly silly, earned only through scenes where Berty comically swears to get over his stuttering.

I know it's perhaps paint-by-numbers to keep big picture stories simmering and form a more complete film universe. But I don't claim to be a genius of history, and it could have helped here. The office of Britain's prime minister changed "off camera." Having the threat of war overshadowed by Berty's personal struggle makes sense, but didn't make it any less jarring for me in the theater.

There were other story issues I had. In their first session, Logue blasts music in Berty's ears so he's not preoccupied with his stammering while he reads. It's patently obvious this will work, sure; but the camera remains trained on their faces, revealing immediately how well he can speak. Berty storms off with a "souvenir" recording of his voice, and a few scenes later - *gasp* - he plays it back, causing him to recant and embrace the open arms of the doc.

There were two better options from where I sat. They could have shot the two from the back if they insisted on being so slow with the reveal. Alternately, it could have been edited more comedicly, with Berty storming off in one shot, and back on the couch negotiating appointments in the next. I had similar "what if" wonders about how much (or little) we see the Duke actually speak before a crowd.

The shot framing during Logue & Berty's early meetings was screaming to be included in a film textbook. I'm sure the Academy predictably ate it up, even if I was rolling my eyes at it. Other techniques in the film screamed out to me with the same volume; a feeling I'm not used to. Maybe I was biased towards any air of pretension because the movie was set in England, and won Best Picture.


"The King's Speech" was far from a waste of time, lest my words suggest otherwise. I just don't see reason to go back to it any time soon. It was charming. It was pleasant. Was it a big deal?

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