FILM RATING: 4.5 stars
(Upgraded from 3.5 to 4.5 stars on September 29, 2011)
Let me start by saying that The King’s Speech (2010) is fun to watch. I really enjoyed going to the theater and sitting with a large crowd to see this film. It’s not quite as fresh and funny as The Kids Are All Right (2010), but it’s well written, well acted, and nicely crafted. The movie’s pacing is a bit slow at times, but with so many great scenes throughout the film, I was able to get through the boring bits. It’s definitely one of my Top 10 movies of 2010. Actor Colin Firth is the star of this historic biopic about King George VI of Britain, and it’s another incredible performance by him in a role that will probably get him the Best Actor Oscar next month. Firth was nominated in 2009 for Best Actor in A Single Man (2009), director Tom Ford’s absolutely brilliant feature film debut. With these two excellent acting performances back to back, Firth has positioned himself as a real dramatic leading man, of which we seemingly have so few today.
King George VI was a stutterer, suffering with an inability to speak clearly at a time when radio was coming into its golden age as the primary means of mass communication. Set primarily in the 1930s, and leading up to World War II, The King’s Speech is a fascinating and enjoyable look into the 20th century British Monarchy from behind-the-scenes. King George VI suffered from a severe speech impediment that initially kept him from ascending to the throne over his brother. But as his brother King Edward VIII, played by Guy Pearce, pursued a “scandalous” relationship with an American woman, George was forced to take over for his brother as King when Edward abdicated the throne. As King, especially during the impending World War II crisis, George was forced to give speeches both in person and over the radio in order to keep his country’s citizens united and strengthened. These radio speeches are now historically famous and well documented as crucial in Britain’s build-up to fighting Hitler and Germany.
Apparently King George VI struggled to find a speech therapist who could get to the core of his problem: emotional confidence. But George ultimately found the right guy to help him and trust with his wife the Queen’s assistance, in the unorthodox and “illegitimate” workings of Lionel Logue, played perfectly by Geoffrey Rush. Rush brings a wacky, intelligent, and heart-warming performance to the screen as Logue, which he’s been nominated for as Best Supporting Actor in this year’s Oscars. It’s right up there with his best work in Shine (1996), Shakespeare In Love (1998), Elizabeth (1998), and the Pirates of the Caribbean films. The best scenes in the film are always between Rush and Firth, their onscreen chemistry is just pitch perfect in The King’s Speech. I’m not sure that one could have done it without the other. Helena Bonham Carter is hilarious and wonderful in her role as Queen Elizabeth, wife to Colin Firth’s King George. It’s her most “restrained” work I’ve ever seen. Carter usually plays extremely over-the-top characters that you love for their incredible weirdness. But as the Queen, she shows another side of her comedic and dramatic acting talents. It’s a brilliant performance that she’s been nominated for it in this year’s Oscars as Best Supporting Actress.
With an incredible script and cast, British director Tom Hooper has brought his A-game to The King’s Speech. After seeing his work on HBO’s stunning historical miniseries John Adams (2008), I knew this movie would have a unique look and feel. Hooper is clearly a director who focuses on the details. Every set, every location, every shot has a fascinating detailed look about it. Hooper is a visual storyteller that brings his unique style and point of view to his work and it clearly shines in collaboration with his cast and crew. I also recently watched Hooper’s film The Damned United (2009), after seeing The King’s Speech, and it’s another good film showing Hooper’s talent as a filmmaker. I definitely want to catch up with Hooper’s work and see HBO’s highly regarded short miniseries Elizabeth I (2005).
The production design on The King’s Speech by Eve Stewart is spot-on, giving the movie a genuine historic look and feel for every set, location, costume, and prop. Part of what I really love about historical movies is always the incredible attention to detail in the production design. It almost always gives those films something that makes them stand out from the pack. The old radio microphones and technology, combined with Colin Firth’s emotional body language, make you feel right in your bones that you are there in the 1930s. That’s not an easy feat in today’s modern world, but Stewart and her art department team did a top notch job doing it.
Like any great movie, the cinematography either makes the story more engaging for the viewer, or it takes away and distracts the viewer from the story. Director of Photography Danny Cohen brings a great visual look to The King’s Speech through his lighting and camera shot choices. There are visuals from this film that still wander around my mind on a daily basis weeks after I’ve seen the film. And whenever I hear the name “The King’s Speech”, I immediately remember some of the incredible photographic images from the movie. Cohen definitely deserved his recent Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography for The King’s Speech. It’s one of the best looking films from 2010.
While music composer Alexandre Desplat’s original score for The King’s Speech is good solid work that fits the film very nicely, I’m not quite as enamored by it as some critics and music aficionados. I do want to listen to it a few more times on its own, separate from the film, to garner a more full opinion on it. But I Desplat did a great job bringing his musical talents to The King’s Speech for what it needed.
Finally, I can’t say enough about screenwriter David Seidler’s script for The King’s Speech. I listened to a great iTunes podcast interview with Seidler by Jeff Goldsmith of Creative Screenwriting Magazine, where they discussed this screenplay and it’s own interesting backstory. This movie was decades in the making, since Seidler had to agree to not write the script or make the movie until Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI, had passed away. And of course this kind of material and subject matter was not popular in Hollywood regardless, so getting financing for the film was its own struggle. But Seidler’s passionate commitment to this story, his writing, and this film really came through. If it weren’t for a very competitive original film script field in this year’s Oscar nominations, I would probably choose Seidler’s script as the best of 2010. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Seidler wins the Oscar over my choice of Christopher Nolan for Inception.
The King’s Speech is a real treat of a movie, one you can take the whole family to in my opinion. I’m flabbergasted that our MPAA Ratings Board is so archaic in their thinking that just because the F-word is used more than once in this movie that it deserves an ‘R’ rating. There’s no nudity or violence, just a few expletive words in a hilarious speech therapy scene. This is really just a PG-13 film and I’m glad to see that the film’s ‘R’ rating has not made much of a difference at the box office. Go see this film while you still can at the theater…it’s worth every dollar you spend on your ticket.