MOVIE: The King’s Speech (2010)

I spent last weekend at the movies, where I saw two films that had been showing up on a lot of critics’ top-ten lists for 2010.  I was really, really excited to see them both, which is, I believe, primarily where I went wrong.  (Lofty expectations:  almost never a good way to start a movie.)

The first was True Grit, a very, very good film (really!  I mean that!  stop acting like I hated True Grit, everyone!) but not, I’m sorry, a great one, and the second was this one.  Which, I’m afraid:  same-same.

While I was perfectly entertained by The King’s Speech, I’m sort of boggled as to why it made it, last-minute, onto so many of those film critics’ lists.  It’s funny, it’s nicely filmed, it’s very well-acted, but it’s not, again, what I would classify as a “great film.”

The story is about King George VI, neé Prince Albert (Colin Firth).  It’s the 1930s, and radio has just entered the realm of global politics, with leaders all over the world beginning to give addresses to their citizens en masse for the first time in history.

The sitting King, George V, is ailing, though, and which of his sons will replace him is a topic of much controversy.  The first son, Edward (Guy Pearce), is embroiled in a first-rate scandal — he’s in love with, and plans to marry, a twice-divorced American woman named Wallis Simpson, something that has the Church of England, no great fans of divorce, all up in his grill (so to speak).  When the king dies and Edward  takes the throne, his own government essentially gives him an ultimatum:  dump the love of your life or give us back that crown.

Edward, being both reckless and true to himself (neither thing much suited to politics), agrees to abdicate to his brother, Albert (who then changes his  name to George VI to sound more regal).

The problem is that for years, Albert has struggled with a terrible stammer that leaves him wholly unfit for radio work and speeches.  With England on the verge of war, the country desperately needs a leader who can inspire confidence.  But whenever Bertie opens his mouth, he sounds unprepared, unprofessional, boring, and difficult to understand — not to mention palpably painful to listen to for anybody, the film’s audience included, who knows what he’s going through.

Enter Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a kooky speech therapist Bertie’s wife (Helena Bonham Carter) digs up after every other doctor has failed to help.  Lionel and Bertie butt heads immediately when it becomes clear Logue has no special respect for regal status.  But the more the two work together — Lionel holding fast to the theory Bertie’s stammer is essentially all in his head: the product of a difficult childhood and the anxiety and self-doubt it created — the more Bertie begins to realize he can do it.  Not just talk without a stammer, but, more importantly, lead a nation.

The film nicely both opens and closes with a speech, a full-circle structural technique I always appreciate in films, and there were a lot of visuals I found totally delightful as well (I especially enjoyed the way faces were often framed against broad, colorful walls — the muddied mess of the wall in the treatment room; the patterned wallpaper in Lionel’s sitting room; the blanketed wall in the speech room at the end of the film, etc.  In many shots, the walls seemed to be the important element, with the person’s head off in a bottom corner:  an interesting way to draw comparisons against the men themselves and the various incongruous settings they find themselves in).  Plus, the acting was inarguably superb; Oscar talk for Firth is completely justified, in my opinion, because he makes both Bertie’s stammer and lisp sound completely natural to him, which can’t have been easy to do.  And Rush is Rush — a little bit crackers, a blast to hang out with.

The problem is, the schtick, which primarily relies on the inherent comedy found in watching a prude let go of his morals and begin dropping the  f-word with abandon, got old pretty fast.  And overall, I didn’t think this film had much depth to it.  It’s a nice story, told well, but I wasn’t particularly moved by it.  It isn’t likely to stick with me in any significant way. It’s a good movie.  It’s very entertaining.   But it’s not a movie I’m likely to feel moved to watch again.

Definitely worth a rental, especially if you enjoy period dramas.  But you can probably skip the theater for this one.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Drama
Cast:   Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi

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6 Responses to “MOVIE: The King’s Speech (2010)”

  1. Jenny M Says:

    David? Wasn’t the king who abdicated for Wallis Simpson named Edward?

  2. megwood Says:

    Oh shit. Let me go check that.

  3. megwood Says:

    YEP! Edward. Edward, David, George — it’s hard to keep all these boring regal names straight, you know? Will go fix that in the review right now! Thanks, Jenny M!

  4. RogerBW Says:

    England has never had a King David. Scotland, yes. But Edward VIII was called “David” by friends and close family – perhaps that’s what threw you, if they put it in the film?

  5. megwood Says:

    Aha, I bet that’s it. I could’ve sworn they were calling him David in the film! Thanks, Roger!

  6. Liz Says:

    I was really interested in seeing this film, but I read somewhere that Albert/George’s stammering problem was very much exaggerated for this movie. That kind of bothered me a little, but, hey, things always tend to get exaggerated in historical fiction. Also, I bet Colin Firth does an amazing job (and I think I read that somewhere, too). It really is amazing what a fuss the media still can make about a piece of entertainment that turns out to be fine, but not great. It kind of works against itself, because the build-up makes the piece look less good by comparison. And, BTW, what a great cast!

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