The King’s Speech (2010)

by Steve Habrat

It drives me nuts when someone says that The King’s Speech was overrated and undeserving of its Oscar wins for Best Picture and Best Director at last year’s Academy Awards. I can see that to some, The King’s Speech is a tailor made Oscar film. It’s a period piece that is, yes, a bit dry and uptight. While the debate raged on last year over which film was more deserving of the Best Picture award, half siding with The Social Network and the other half siding with The King’s Speech, I found myself floored by The King’s Speech. Both films are a work of art and both are gripping, but I found myself invested in the warmth of The King’s Speech over the coldness of The Social Network. This is not to say that I disliked The Social Network, in fact I found it to stand in the top three films of 2010, but I found myself in love with the characters in The King’s Speech and rooting for Colin Firth’s stuttering King George VI. I rooted for him to overcome his disability and to make a friend in the process, someone he could relate to and share his bottled up feelings with. Someone he can sit back with, laugh with, and have a drink with.

The King’s Speech tells the true story of Prince Albert, Duke of York (Played by Firth), who suffers from a stutter that has plagued him his entire life. After years of ridicule and teasing from his strict father King George V (Played by Michael Gambon) and his older brother David, or Edward, Prince of Wales (Played by Guy Pearce), help is sought out for Albert and speech therapists are brought in who apply unorthodox techniques to help with the stutter. The techniques do not work and they end up sending Albert into fits of rage and anger. In a final and desperate attempt, Albert’s loving wife Elizabeth (Played by Helena Bonham Carter) seeks out the help of a patient speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Played by Geoffrey Rush), who’s only demand is that Albert comes directly to him in his office and that he isn’t called doctor. Albert reluctantly goes and he begins to strike up a friendship with the quirky Logue. Soon Albert finds himself taking the throne and war with Nazi Germany is declared. With his new leadership role, Albert begins to allow Logue to probe into his personal life, something strictly forbidden by the royal family. As Albert opens up, he reveals traumatizing moments in his life that he has never told anyone before.

Director Tom Hooper turns The King’s Speech into a stunning work of art that visually suggests Albert’s alienation. One speech therapist is filmed in an extreme and grotesque close up, bearing down on Albert as he spits commands and demands that he annunciates. A panic washes over Albert and it’s easy to see why, with someone bearing down on you who you barley know and commanding you to do something that is extremely difficult, it is easy to see why Albert falls to pieces so easily. Albert is often times photographed to one side of the screen, rarely falling in the neutral middle ground and if he does fall in the middle, he is surrounded with support for those who care about him. He is also often shown in a close up when is quivering with nerves so we can see the fear that has embedded itself within him. The verbal torment he has endured has taken its toll on his spirit, making him someone with no confidence in himself and uses anger as a defense mechanism. Hooper puts us in the shoes of a plagued soul who has hidden his scars in bitterness. This is an approach that I thought made The King’s Speech a triumph, because many films will present someone who has been tormented, but we never see things from their perspective. We are allowed to sympathize with a character behind glass, but we are never plopped in their shoes.

Lionel Logue is the complete opposite of Albert, someone who is confident and self-assured, usually photographed with busy backgrounds and near the middle of the screen. He has faced rejection in his life, but he overcomes the rejection and pours his focus in putting a voice in those without one. He is someone who works to understand those around him and willing to level with them, something a true friend should do. This is where I found the relevance in The King’s Speech. Logue is determined to make a real flesh and blood friend in Albert, even if Albert puts up a hell of a fight. We live in an age where we can avoid real human interaction through emails, text messages, Facebook, twitter, etc. There is almost no need to actually speak to anyone anymore and to experience real human emotion with a “friend”. The King’s Speech encourages us to seek out real interaction and to find our own voice. Albert needs someone to talk to so he can mend the wounds that he conceals and Logue loves the company. Hooper opens the screen up to make the viewer feel like he or she is sitting in the company of these two men and it truly is a warm and fuzzy feeling.

The King’s Speech is loaded with emotional weights that Hooper drops unexpectedly on the viewer. It’s best not to reveal them and to experience them as they play out. It ultimately gives The King’s Speech more of an emotional impact. From a historical standpoint, The King’s Speech is beyond interesting and shed light on an aspect of history I was unaware of. The film can be seen as a learning tool, something that should encourage the viewers to go out and do some research on King George VI. Graceful, moving, and relevant, The King’s Speech blends art with a lasting statement. It doesn’t shy away from showing how important friendship can be especially in an age of digital isolation. You’ll also be surprised by how unpretentious the film truly is. I think that many viewers go in to the film with the preconceived notion that this is a film for snobs, which leads them to deem it unworthy of the awards it received. Maybe I’m a sucker for crowd pleasers, something The King’s Speech is, but it left me on a high note that I just didn’t want to come down from.

Grade: A

The King’s Speech is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

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Posted on February 20, 2012, in REViEW and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. My only minor gripe was that I felt Black Swan deserved the Oscar more, but I certainly didn’t have any issue with The King’s Speech winning, nor did I expect them to give it to Black Swan. The King’s Speech is a fine film. Hooper achieved everything that he set out to achieve, and I have a hard time taking fault with movies that do so.

    It seems like every year, there’s a huge dose of cynicism that serves as a mandatory accompaniment to whatever film wins (or whatever the favorite is), and it’s a shame. It’s happening this year with The Artist. I’m all for fair criticism and the like, but more often than not, it comes off as people trying desperately to go against the flow and stand out by being the one negative review for a truly good-to-great film. It’s started to ring hollow for me.

    • Personally, I think almost every movie that was nominated last year could have taken Best Picture. The only one I didn’t see was The Kids are All Right, but to me that looked like the mandatory quirky indie movie that comes out every year. Last year was a real solid year at the Oscars. I just found The King’s Speech so moving and interesting from a historical standpoint. Black Swan was also an incredible work of art. Darren Aronofsky keeps getting better with every movie he makes (I also loved The Wrestler). Inception was also amazing and truly inspired genius. I sincerely hope that the Academy finally wakes up to his talent and nominates him for Best Director and Best Picture for The Dark Knight Rises (that is to say, if it is as good as The Dark Knight, but I’m sure it will be).

      I agree with you on the cynicism that accompanies the Best Picture winners. Recently, the only film that I thought didn’t really deserve the Best Picture win was Slumdog Millionaire, although I wasn’t sent into a rage over its victory. It’s not that I hated the movie (I actually really enjoyed it and I thought it was deserving of its nomination) and I was happy to see Danny Boyle get the Best Director win (finally, after movies like Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Sunshine), but I thought Milk was a little bit better than Slumdog Millionaire. It’s a shame that people have to act like that. In film school, many of my fellow peers refused to watch it because they thought that the nominees were too mainstream. Of course, they had more pretentious ways of saying it, but that was basically what they were implying.

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