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I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
The King's Speech (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
The King's Speech (DVD)
Date: 14/01/11, updated on 14/01/11 (70 review reads)
Advantages: Strong central performances from Firth and Rush
Disadvantages: Slightly stage-bound feel
The film tells the true-life story of the Duke of York (and future King George VI, following the abdication of his brother). Inflicted with a severe speech impediment, the prospect of public speaking represents a terrifying prospect, leading him to accept the help of speech therapist, Lionel Logue to overcome his stammer.
Much of the talk about this film has focussed on Colin Firth, and there are plenty of suggestions that Uncle Oscar might soon come calling. You can see why - it's exactly the sort of performance The Academy loves; a tale of personal triumph over affliction and victory against the odds. Firth certainly does an excellent job, his speech patterns and mannerisms are spot on and, from comparison with old news real footage, he does a very convincing job of inhabiting the body of the Duke of York. His imitation of a stammer is also very convincing and his ability to transform his face into a picture of misery and agony as he tries to get his words out never runs the risk of becoming over the top and ridiculous. He also turns the Duke into a far more sympathetic figure than perhaps he has any right to be, giving him genuine warmth which increases as the film progresses.
Despite this, it's arguably Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue who provides the better performance. His compassionate doctor provides some much needed heart to a film which might otherwise be emotionally very sterile at times. Logue exudes both a sense of toughness and one of vulnerability and Rush's portrayal of the strong family man contrasts excellently with the emotionally sterile family background of the Duke.
It's almost cruel to single out the two lead actors though since it's when they are together that the film truly comes to life. The course of their relationship is expertly plotted and portrayed strongly. From an initial position of distaste, mistrust and even downright dislike, each slowly comes to respect the other and value the burgeoning friendship. For every petulant outburst from the prince, there is a warmer moment to complement it. Sure, this sort of character arc happens in lots of films, but Firth and Rush make it feel genuine, rather than a construct of the scriptwriter's mind.
There are also some rather excellent cameos; a spot-on performance from Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill and also Guy Pearce as the abdicating Edward VIII (very much cast as the selfish, heartless villain of the piece). Yet, it is also noticeable that the pace of the film slows significantly when the two main stars are not together. Indeed, at times, it becomes rather pedestrian and dull. All the energy and vitality this film has comes from the two leads and when they are not on screen, they are sorely missed.
The whole film also feels rather stage bound, as though it is a direct adaptation of a theatre play. Locations are very limited and give no real sense of place or period and much of the film takes place in the same dull, drab buildings
However, restricting the film to just a few drab locations reinforces the stifling, cold and loveless attitudes prevalent amongst the upper echelons of stuffy British society. Personal feelings do not matter, only "duty". An outbreak of grief by Edward VIII following his father's death met with dispassionate discomfort by his mother sums up the emotionless shells that these people inhabit and has the knock on effect of making them very hard to like.
Credit, then to Colin Firth who slowly breaking this potential barrier down. In many ways, Firth's Bertie is just as dislikeable as his brother, yet slowly we see him melting, confronting and accepting his own emotions, as he comes to learn from Logue what it means to be human, not royal. Come the end, even the most ardent republican will be willing him to triumph over his affliction.
Despite strong personal performances from Firth and Rush, there were times when the directing style of Tom Hooper was rather intrusive and acted as a constant reminder that you are just watching a film. As well as failing to establish any real sense of period, Hooper rather overdoes on close-up shots of the key actors to establish that this is a personal film. Some scenes become little more than a series of talking heads, as the camera flicks from a close up of Geoffrey Rush to one of Colin Firth, and back again. This blocks out any background detail, adding to the sense of dislocation between time and place.
That said, there are times when close ups and camera angles are used to great effect to establish a deeply claustrophobic atmosphere to reinforce the sense of panic in the Duke. During the tortuous opening sequence and the final climactic speech, the microphone looms large, dominating our view, taunting the Duke and robbing him of any power or dignity, until his final victory and vindication. Some shots are more subtle, but just as clever: again, during the early opening sequence, the Duke is ushered up the stairs to his doom, the only doorway (clearly marked No Way Out) barred by a group of dignitaries. This clever use of camera angles has the effect of inducing an appropriate sense of hopelessness and despair in the viewer.
There's no doubt that The King's Speech will be there or there abouts at all the major awards ceremonies, and with good reason. Held together by two powerful performances from Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, it successfully overcomes any weaknesses in the script and directing to produce a good film. Having said that, it is a good film, not a great one, and it has been over-hyped by the critics. I suspect that this is one of those (potential) Oscar winners which is a worthy film, but one which is all but forgotten in ten years' time.
The King's Speech
Director: Tom Hooper
Running time: approx. 118 minutes
© Copyright SWSt 2011
Summary: A good film and one deserving of praise, but not a great one