Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oscars: The King's Speech (2010): Fantastic!

There is a scene early on in The King’s Speech, where Prince Albert (Colin Firth) meets another one of many speech therapists for his stammer, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) at his rather peculiar workplace. Seated on a sofa against the wall, as Lionel tries hard to strike a conversation with the clearly uncomfortable Prince Albert, the camera focuses on the Prince placed firmly on the bottom left part of the frame and pans out such that a large part of the frame is devoted to the wall behind him, beautifully amplifying the sense of sadness, the helplessness and being trapped that Prince Albert is feeling. Despite his rather broad frame and royal stature, he looks dwarfed and defeated by a mix of circumstance, legacy and personal impediments.

Despite an already remarkable career, Colin Firth gives the performance of a lifetime as Bertie or, as the world knows him, King George VI. He plays a man who is not simply unsure or insecure; but broken. He has accumulated, without expressing, so many emotions over the years and carried them like deadweight that they now are holding him back from realising his greatness. He lost his voice to the loneliness of royal life and a friendless existence. Several failed attempts to find it again have added to this a deep seated cynicism tied in with an iron-cast ego specially bred into him through his royal upbringing. He is a promising king, a loving father and husband and a painfully difficult student. Colin Firth skilfully manoeuvres through these various layers and immerses himself into the role achieving what few actors can: transcendence. Watch closely, for you probably will be seeing the best performance of this year.

The King’s Speech is a predictable drama. But I’ll be damned if I have seen a more rousing and powerful one in recent years. The difference lies is in its direction and performances. Geoffrey Rush is perfectly cast as Lionel Logue and it is an absolute delight to watch two stalwart actors engage with each other in a battle of wits; first, as king and commoner and later, as friends. At every step of the way, he walks the line and dances the dance with Colin Firth. Helena Bonham Carter is wonderfully restrained and in parts, quirky, as the devoted and loving wife of Prince Albert.

The director, Tom Hopper, masterfully explores the duality of a royal existence, and how each part affects the other. On one hand, Prince Albert has his royal duties which he must perform and live the stuffy life of royalty. He doesn’t resent it. In fact, he regards it with reverence and an affection his brother David (Guy Pearce) would never understand. However, he is also mortified by the public appearances, the speeches and a king’s need to ingratiate himself to his peoples. On the other hand is his personal life. As a loving parent and spouse, he has the unflinching support of his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter). He also has to suffer the absolute agony of not being able to convey his love to his own children. His speech impediment dramatically impacts how he sees himself in the monarchy. The exploration of English monarchy here is more intimate, personal and human than in Stephen Frears’ The Queen. He also uses the camera beautifully in several places to amplify emotions; the overpowering burden of history, legacy and the duty of living up to the hopes and expectations of a government and a people placed on Bertie’s shoulders.

As a script, the reliance on wit, situation and sarcasm for humour is a fine reminder of how much the Americans could learn from the British. Not once is Bertie’s speech impediment used for humorous relief. The writers and the director treat with the seriousness and dignity that it deserves. The writers also do well in placing the film firmly in its historical context without creating stereotypical villains or antagonists for the sake of drama. The only villain, if any, is Hitler sitting in Germany thousands of miles away. The writing has an earnestness that is all but lost in cinema. The climactic speech is glorious in its sincerity and simplicity.

Ultimately, The King’s Speech is a splendid example of fine film making. It is certainly the best acted film of the year (with the caveat that I still have to see True Grit and The Fighter) and one of the best directed. But as far as the Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay goes, my vote is still firmly with The Social Network and Inception, both of which were more difficult, ambitious and interesting stories to write and direct on screen. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic period drama, one which will inspire and overwhelm you.

Rating: 4/5


  1. i'm gonna watch,,
    thanks for the review :)

  2. hi walrus
    A lot of critics are praising the off-center camera positioning which you too have mentioned in your review.

    I also think that Inception should win the original screenplay and The Social Network the Best picture Oscar.

  3. Extremely well-written review. I wouldn't be exaggerating to say that its easily better than any other Indian review that I've read, but then you've probably heard that already. Go Shore!

    On a tangential point though, agree with all you've said about The King's Speech, but what's so great about Inception's story? Its essentially a movie based on one gimmick...I agree its the smartest action movie in recent years, but hardly one with an Oscar-worthy story. Ok, flight's boarding. So I'll keep this argument brief. I'm sure we'll continue sometime :-)

  4. Thanks so much!

    The thing about Inception is not just the story, but the screenplay itself. The labyrinthine structure of the screenplay is very difficult to create, especially when its original and not an adaptation of literary writing. Nolan does a fantastic job in taking a very complex narrative and writing and directing it in a way to even make a person of ordinary intellect understand and appreciate it. Further, unlike a story like The King's Speech, there is no template here; no similar script written to learn from. This is almost entirely from scratch and therein lies its appeal. That's what I think. :)