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The King's Speech

a film by Tom Hooper

We Yanks sure do love ourselves some movies about the British royal family, don't we? Just in recent years, one can make a rather long list of such films. Films like Elizabeth, The Queen, Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown, The Other Boleyn Girl and Elizabeth: The Golden Age to name but a few. Well, for all you Anglophiles out there, here is another one, the Tom Hooper directed The King's Speech. It has all the requisite ingredients needed to satiate the aforementioned Anglophile's appetite - a strong central performance by a commanding Commonwealth actor; a straightforward and authoritative, though not-too-demanding screenplay; a slightly tilted filmmaking style as to appear somewhat arty, but no so askew as to scare away the multiplex crowd; a gentle mélange of the dramatic and the comedic to keep the emotions of the more empathetic moviegoers at bay. This may sound a bit cheeky, and I suppose in a manner of speaking, it is meant to, but that notwithstanding, The King's Speech, though far from great, certainly should feed the appetite of any Anglophile worth their salt. I only wish it had been the better movie it deserved to be.

The King's Speech is the story of King George VI, who unexpectedly took over the throne when his elder brother Edward VIII abdicated to marry an American divorcee (George is actually Prince Albert and/or the Duke of York throughout the majority of the picture, only gaining the throne in the final act) and the stuttering problem that made his inevitable public speaking a personal horror show. World war was about to break out and a voice to unite the kingdom was sorely needed - a voice that George VI would eventually become heralded for, thanks to an unorthodox (of course he is unorthodox!) speech therapist from down under. Colin Firth plays George (or Bertie as he is called by those close to him, or as close as one can get to a King) with a certain verve and vigor, and a Hell of a lot of classy swagger. Enough so that he is all but assured the Best Actor Oscar (an award the actor should have won last year with his devastating performance in A Single Man - a snub that will be rewarded a year late, though his King George is worthy of the prize).

Geoffrey Rush as the aforementioned unorthodox speech therapist and Helena Bonham Carter as the future Queen Mum (these are Elizabeth II's parents) are both more than capable in their respective roles, but this is surely Mr. Firth's film, and the actor manages to carry an otherwise standard movie upon his broad British shoulders indeed. At least he carries it enough for one to forget the otherwise tepid aspects of first time director Hooper's mainstreamy arthouse film du jour. In the end, The King's Speech is just what one would expect it to be - an Oscar-bait biopic (it is the understandable but undeserving frontrunner for Best Picture as I am writing this review) with a strong central performance by a commanding Commonwealth actor, a straightforward and authoritative, though not-too-demanding screenplay, a slightly tilted filmmaking style as to appear somewhat arty, but no so askew as to scare away the multiplex crowd and a gentle mélange of the dramatic and the comedic to keep the emotions of the more empathetic moviegoers at bay.

In other words, a fairly well made movie that is just far enough toward the arthouse crowd to seem a remarkable gem by those more used to mainstream Hollywood moviemaking. Granted, this film does deserve better than the critical jibing I have been giving it thus far - Firth is wonderful and Hooper's Gilliamesque camera is surprisingly adroit, and perhaps I have been a bit hard (and quite the cheeky monkey) on what was overall, a quite enjoyable film for this critic to watch - but it certainly does not deserve the thronged accolades it has been receiving from those cinematic know-nothings who want to sound like arthouse snobs. But then again, we Yanks sure do like our royal family movies, don't we? [01/31/11]

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