The King’s Speech Review

(3.5 STARS)

The King’s Speech has all the pieces necessary to be a masterpiece. The ensemble is as good as any this year. The writing is spot-on. The cinematography, art direction, and score are all fantastic. And Tom Hooper’s direction is confident and smart. The only thing missing is that little extra umph—the quality that brings together the film’s cleverness, emotion, and technical prowess together. It’s hard to explain, but that x-factor is missing. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this film. I think it’s probably hard not to. But when put up against some of 2010’s best, there’s a small, but somewhat obvious void right where the heart should be. That’s what makes the film one that’s easier to admire than love.

The film follows the man who will become King George VI (Colin Firth). When the film opens, his father (Michael Gambon) sits on the throne, and he’s the Duke of York. The Duke—also known as Prince Albert or Bertie—suffers from a crippling stammer that earns him looks of pity whenever he speaks in public. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), stands by his side, but the rest of his family, including his father and older brother Edward (Guy Pearce), bully him, pressure him to “spit it out.” Elizabeth urges Bertie to find help, and he does so with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a washed-up actor turned speech therapist who is known for his unorthodox methods. The two bond as Lionel brings Bertie out of his shell, but when he is thrust into the spotlight, right when his country needs him most, his insecurity—and stammer—return, and no one is sure if he’ll recover in time for his big moment.

Before anyone gets the idea from my intro that I didn’t like the film that much, let me make it perfectly clear: I really, really enjoyed The King’s Speech. I clapped enthusiastically along with the rest of the crowd. I loved the film’s tone. Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler straddle the difficult line between comedy and drama brilliantly. The now infamous “fuck” scene was just hilarious, while the emotional climax is rousing and inspiring.

The film also features some of the year’s best acting. Colin Firth’s performance as King George rivals Natalie Portman’s work in Black Swan as my favorite of the year. Not once did I think I was watching Colin Firth impersonate a king; He is a king. He and Geoffrey Rush play very well off each other, as do he and Bonham Carter. Both veterans are exceptional and should be in line for Supporting Actor and Actress nominations, respectively. Rush has most of the film’s best lines, and he never allows his character to sink into the shadows. Bonham Carter’s role is arguably underwritten (the standard “supportive wife” role), but she certainly makes the best of it. I was heavily reminded of Stanley Tucci’s work in Julie and Julia (neither has a great arc, but they provide strong, steady support for their significant others).

And as far as technical achievement goes, The King’s Speech is perhaps second only to Inception in 2010. The film’s cinematography (courtesy of Danny Cohen) is outstanding. The film is filled with uniquely angled shots, as well as a number of beautiful tracking shots through the gorgeously realized palaces of 1930’s England. The score, by Alexandre Desplat, isn’t the most unique of the year, but it’s used very appropriately and gives the film much of its heart.

Now, to my one issue with the film. Look at Toy Story 3. It’s goes for the jugular emotionally. Look at The Social Network. It goes for the jugular intellectually. Look at Inception. It goes for the jugular when it comes to originality. The King’s Speech doesn’t really go for the jugular when it comes to anything. It’s well-done across the board, but it lacks a killer instinct. It’s a bit safe, which isn’t necessarily a fault, but it does hold the film back a little. I could never get 100% behind it because I was left wanting just a bit more.

Still, The King’s Speech is admirable for an infinite number of reasons. It tells a great story incredibly well and features some of the best acting of the year. It’s a beautiful looking and sounding and features some terrific blend of comedy and drama. It might not be the most exciting, most original, or most thought-provoking film of the year, but it’s damn good, and you can’t ask for much more than that.

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