Sunday, December 26, 2010

Love: The King's Speech

The King's Speech is pure Oscar bait.  Here we have it, ready, set, go: a film not only about the British monarchy, but also featuring wartime, inspirational storytelling, costume pieces, and obstacle disability delivered by a host of actors who already receive that little "Oscar nominee/winner" official title each time their name is listed in a trailer.  At first glance, there's nothing tremendously novel about The King's Speech.  It's a 'lessons learned' type of film about human shortcomings.  Just a gentle little drama built up around a crippling stammer.  Of course, first glances count for naught here.  The crippling stammer here belongs to the man who would become King George VI (Colin Firth), an individual of noble blood who can't overcome his own tongue long enough to get a full sentence out to his young daughters, let alone address a troubled nation.  The future King, nicknamed Bertie by his family, is dragged from therapist to therapist by his sharp wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) in a desperate attempt to fix up his elocution.  A last ditch effort brings them to the shabby chic office of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an unconventional Australian prepared to take some serious risks to untangle Bertie's tied up tongue. A remarkable thing happens when Bertie when he enters Lionel's office: a staid, Oscar-bait story transforms into a clever, eloquent little buddy comedy.
As Bertie and Lionel struggle to transcend their very different social statuses and proud personas, they become a very unlikely odd couple.  The scenes in Lionel's office are delightfully tense, witty bits of comedic timing; entertaining us with a dancing, singing, cursing royal battling his demons and his doctor in between very real political drama.  With the next direct line to the throne philandering himself into the shame of England, Hitler rising to power, and the Prime Minister warning of impending war, Bertie takes his elocution lessons seriously.  He is a man petrified and the look on his face suggests that every moment of interaction is a painful one.  Firth is remarkable.  After one career-defining performance last year in A Single Man, Firth has turned around and upped his game even further.  In taking on Bertie and his impediment, the actor seems preternaturally aware of just where to draw the line.  The stutter is never taken too far, but never too little.  There's a very real strain here, a physical undertaking that really hits at the agony Bertie must be in.  You feel for Bertie, know that he'd be a great man if he could ever manage to get past his hangups.  Firth does for King George what Helen Mirren did for Elizabeth II.  That is, he transforms a familiar historical figure into a very real, very dimensional, wholly accessible character.  The King's Speech offers an intimate portrait  of a man, whom, in his lifetime, interacted very little with 'common folk,'  aided in no small part by a dry yet ebullient performance by the too oft underused Rush.
When the Oscar nominations are announced on January 24th, The King's Speech will be a surefire contender in no fewer than five categories.  It's the rare bit of Oscar bait that actually really deserves whatever acclaim it receives. The actors, the script, the subtle beauty of the art direction and costumes are all top notch.  But, you know, the emphasis is definitely on the actors.  King George's is a story that translates beautifully to the screen without overselling itself or giving way to insipid, overtly sentimental rewrites.  Here's the rare historical drama that works as well as a comedic piece of solid entertainment as it does a homework assignment.  See it.

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