Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech won the Academy Award for Best Picture this year, but that’s not to say that it was the most popular film at the box office in 2010. In fact, of the films nominated in that category at this year’s Oscar’s, it’d probably be fair to say that The King’s Speech wasn’t amongst the top three or four most-seen films. The problem is that The King’s Speech looks like it might be a chore to sit through: you’ve got stuffy British people, an “underdog beats the odds” plotline that many of us have already seen, and a lead actor that isn’t known for being the most electric on-screen presence in Hollywood. All of this may have kept people from checking the film out when it hit theaters. But now that it’s won the “Best Picture” Oscar and landed on store shelves, should you give The King’s Speech a chance? Find out after the jump, folks…
If you’re anything like me, you saw the trailers for The King’s Speech and thought, “Oh, Jesus, here we go again: another Oscar-bait movie built around British high-society types and their champagne problems.” When I saw the trailers for Tom Hooper’s film, I knew instantly that I wouldn’t bother seeing the film in theaters– it looked like about a dozen other movies I’d already seen (and only few of those were ones I’d enjoyed)– but months later, when the film started gaining traction as a contender at this year’s Academy Awards, I was forced to rethink my position. Was it possible that The King’s Speech really was more entertaining than I suspected it’d be? Was it possible that the trailers simply didn’t do Hooper’s film justice? I remained suspicious, mindful of a similar situation the year before with Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker: in 2009, that was the film that critics fell all over themselves to praise, and I’d only find it to be above-average. Then again, I’d resisted seeing The Fighter for over a year, only to discover that I loved the film upon giving in and checking it out.
When The King’s Speech won the Oscar (and a whole bunch of other Oscars, for the record), that made the decision for me: I’d give the film a shot when it hit Blu-ray, and then I’d know for sure which category The King’s Speech fell into: the one filled with films that received an inexplicable amount of praise…and the ones I’d underestimated. Now that I’ve seen the film, I’m amused to report that I’m actually still undecided: The King’s Speech was definitely more entertaining than I suspected it’d be, but I have a hard time agreeing with the idea that Hooper’s film is better than David Fincher’s The Social Network (which I was rooting for at this year’s Academy Awards), and I don’t necessarily agree that The King’s Speech was even amongst the top five films I saw last year. Maybe not even the top ten. But it’s still very, very good.
More importantly: we’re not here to compare the merits of the film against everything else that arrived in theaters in 2010. We’re here to judge the film as its own entity, and when we look at it from that angle, The King’s Speech is an enormously successful, extremely charming, beautifully-made little movie. I had more fun watching it than I expected to, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone that loves film. It won’t be for the genre-freaks and the Michael Bay fans of the world, but for those of us that enjoy a respite from gratuitous nudity and explosions every once in awhile, The King’s Speech is a very satisfying movie.
So. The King’s Speech tells the story of the Duke of York, Albert “Berty” George (Colin Firth). The film opens in 1925, when the Duke was asked by King George V (Harry Potter‘s Michael Gambon) to speak on his behalf at Wembley Stadium. Before Berty’s even stepped up to the mic, we can see that he’s terrified of speaking publicly, but only after he starts talking does it become apparent just how terrified he is: Berty stammers his way through the speech, the crowd looking awkwardly down at their feet and stiffening their already-stiff upper-lips in embarrassment. Having a massive speech impediment would be a problem for anyone in public office, but a member of the Royal Family? Beyond embarrassing.
As such, Berty’s determined to get over the impediment, and he works his way through a variety of quack doctors before finally ending up in the offices of one Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush, God amongst men), speech therapist. Logues’ got some pretty bizarre methods, comparatively speaking, and though the first meeting between these two strong-willed men doesn’t go as well as either would have hoped, it starts up a friendship– and a doctor/patient relationship– that will end up stretching decades. But will Logue be able to cure Berty of his stammer? Will Logue’s techniques (or, perhaps more importantly, his friendship) be enough to get the Duke to deliver a flawless speech? And what would happen if something terrible happened and the Duke ended up acting as King: what would he do then? And what will Berty’s advisors think when they find out he’s been palling around with a commoner?
The King’s Speech answers all these questions, and while they might not sound like the most dynamic, cinematic plot points you’ve ever heard, I can assure you that Hooper does a marvelous job of keeping things interesting. A lot of The King’s Speech‘s success can be ascribed to the jaw-droppingly beautiful sets and costumes that Hooper put onscreen: this thing really looks like it was filmed in the mid-20’s and 30’s. Hooper’s attention to detail is, in fact, one of the best reasons to see this film.
Other reasons to see the film include: David Seidler’s excellent script (it’s razor-sharp, and much funnier than I expected it to be), Geoffrey Rush’s performance (he’s flawless, and seeing his work here inspired me to dig up my copy of The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, which all of you should watch immediately), Colin Firth’s performance (how difficult it must have been for him to master that faux-stammer: if you have any doubt that he deserved the Oscar over The Social Network‘s Jessie Eisenberg, it’ll be put to rest about half an hour into this film), and the supporting work from Guy Pierce, Helena Bonham Carter (though she is looking a little rough these days), and Timothy Spall (who plays Winston Churchill)(!!!). All of these people make The King’s Speech worth watching, and under Hooper’s direction, they truly turn out something special.
A side-note for the Social Network enthusiasts out there: I admit that I remain unconvinced that The King’s Speech is a better film than The Social Network— that feels a lot like Forrest Gump unjustly beating Pulp Fiction to me, or Shakespeare in Love beating Saving Private Ryan— but it’d be stupid to hold that against Hooper’s film. The Oscars are, after all, a popularity contest, and we’ve seen films that didn’t deserve to win the top prize take home the gold again and again. The good news is, even though I don’t think that The King’s Speech deserved to win the “Big Prize” this year, it’s not a complete upset: this isn’t like when Crash won a few years ago (remember Crash? Yeah, neither does anyone else). The King’s Speech is an uplifting, beautifully-constructed film, and it’s got a timeless quality that will ensure that it won’t be one of the Academy’s embarrassing mistakes a few years down the road (like Crash. Remember Crash? You’ve already forgotten it again, haven’t you?). I guess what I’m saying is: it sucks that Fincher didn’t win the Oscar this year with The Social Network, but if he was gonna lose, there are a lot crappier movies than he could’ve lost to than Hooper’s film.
The King’s Speech Blu-ray comes packaged with a few of Berty’s old speeches (one of which is on film, and it’s kind of fascinating to watch), a documentary about the making of the film, a little featurette put together by the Society of Stutterers (or whatever they’re calling themselves), an interview with the grandson of the real Lionel Logue (which, sadly, doesn’t feature a single photo of the real Logue, which is what I really wanted to see), and a commentary by Hooper. I admit that I haven’t yet listened to Hooper’s commentary, but I’m interested in giving it a spin at some point. I don’t know that I loved The King’s Speech so much that I’d watch it again and again, but I’d certainly watch it one more time with Hooper’s audio-track just to learn a little more about the making of the film and the history behind it. Furthermore, Blu-ray enthusiasts should be aware the the audio/video here is crystal-clear, and while the film isn’t snazzy enough to be used as a “demo disc” for your entertainment center, it’ll certainly please those of you that– like me– really get off on razor-sharp video quality. Some of the sets here look breathtaking.
So, should you pick up The King’s Speech? I wouldn’t recommend purchasing this one sight unseen (it’s simply not rewatchable enough for me to make that recommendation), but I’d certainly recommend that you rent the film and give it a shot. If you didn’t see the film in theaters because you thought it’d be “boring” or “stuffy” or “lame”, rest assured that The King’s Speech is none of those things. It’s quite funny, moving, and provides a quick-and-dirty (if not entirely accurate) history lesson along with some really amazing sets, costumes, and performances. It’s definitely less boring than you might expect it to be.
My grade? B+