Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The King's Speech

Even though I'm in the middle of writing my Fringe 2011 preview, I had to take the time to write a quick review of The King's Speech, which I saw Monday night.

It is 1925 and Prince Albert1, Duke of York (i.e. the younger son of the current monarch of England, at this point George V; the elder son is always the Prince of Wales) has a problem; he has to give speeches – the King having embraced radio as an effective means of communication – and he stutters badly.

After trying numerous different 'experts' his gives up. His wife Elizabeth (who we know better as the Queen Mother), however, does not; she visits Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist (and failed actor), and she convinces Albert to seek his help.

So yeah, it's not an adrenaline-fuelled rollercoaster ride by any standards. There is drama, though; the ascension of Albert's brother Edward to the throne is problematic because of his relationship with the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson, as well as the timing – it is 1936 and Hitler's Germany is starting to look dangerous for the rest of Europe.

The performances, however, are amongst the best I've seen – Firth's in particular. That someone so accustomed to playing cool, confident characters can do such a convincing job of playing such an (initially) awkward, nervous man (what TV Tropes would call the woobie) is indicative of great ability – which is probably why he's considered a likely Oscar contender.

Geoffrey Rush's performance is less obvious, but his Lionel Logue is both strong and genuine; he is a rock for the Prince to stand upon. Similarly, Helena Bonham-Carter, after several far darker and nastier roles (e.g. Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter films), is the picture of both strength and compassion.

Small but pivotal roles are played by great actors: Derek Jacobi is the rather unpleasant Archbishop of Canterbury; Timothy Spall is Winston Churchill; Michael Gambon is George V; Guy Pearce is the self-absorbed playboy Edward VIII; and, as Logue's wife Myrtle, Jennifer Ehle is reunited on screen with Colin Firth – at the time I hadn't realised who it was; if I had the moment would've been so much more significant2.

One of the more interesting aspects – from my perspective at least – is how it demonstrates the role of the monarchy to the English. I'm as republican3 as they come, but that's because I'm Australian; the film made me realise that the monarch can actually be a figurehead – in an inspirational sense – to a country in times of need.

Apparently they've taken a few liberties with a few things – most significantly the timing of events in order to give it a bit more intensity – but those are (to me at least) perfectly acceptable.

Really, this is a great film – the story is far more interesting than it might sound, and the characters and the performances are captivating; it also looks fantastic – they've gone to a great deal of trouble to make everything look authentic and period: the palaces, Logue's office, and the control room of the BBC.

If you don't mind that there are no explosions, or car chases, or super-hot anthropomorphic computer programs4, go see this film.

Update 1: I neglected to mentioned that the film had been nominated for a stack of Golden Globe awards in the Drama category - Best Actor (Colin Firth), Best Supporting Actor (Geoffrey Rush), Best Supporting Actress (Helena Bonham Carter), Best Director (Tom Hooper), Best Screenplay (David Seidler), and Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat).

Despite being nominated for so many, it only took home one: Best Actor for Colin Firth.

The Academy Award nominations haven't been announced yet, but it seems fairly certain it'll get a few nods; Colin firth is apparently at unbackable odds to take home the Oscar for Best Actor – and I can't say I'd be unhappy to see that.

I'll update again once the nominations are out – and then again after the ceremony.

1No, not that Prince Albert. That was his great-grandfather.
2Why? Because Jennifer Ehle played Lizzie Bennett against Firth's Mr Darcy in the definitive BBC production of Pride & Prejudice; no other version even comes close – Keira Knightley, I'm looking in your scrawny direction.
3To reassure any American readers, that's a small 'r' – in this context it means I would like to see Australia become a republic.
4That's what Olivia Wilde and Tron: Legacy are for. Read more about it here.

1 comment:

  1. I am looking forward to seeing it this weekend. My cup of tea -- no explosions, no scantily-clad chicks who are the only female characters, no smart-mouthed twenty-year-olds. Nirvana.