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Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Little-Late Film Review: The King's Speech

Perfect.  It’s a difficult task to find a perfect film, as film is a product of men and man is inherently flawed.  When a movie comes along that is even close to perfection, carefully treading the lines of fiction and reality that film seem to blur, it wins an Oscar, or is at least nominated.  When a film creates its own path, finding a new route through genre and storytelling, it becomes a classic.  Some of those "classics", however few there are, can be ranked among the greatest films of all time.

The King’s Speech is a breathtakingly beautiful, masterfully-written film that focuses on George, the Duke of York at the time of the dawn of England’s entry into World War II.  The film takes place over time, as we see his deep struggle with his own self-doubt and fear.  His reluctance stems from his severe speech impediment, which has crippled him socially.  After his father, king George V’s, death, the crown is handed to his brother Edward VIII, who’s own scandalous personal life would find him forced to abdicate.  At this point, the reluctant and fearful George VI takes his place among the English monarchs. 

All the while, George VI is working with an eccentric and outspoken speech therapist named Lionel Logue who’s unorthodox ways are either extremely insane, or utterly brilliant.  George, encouraged by his wife Elizabeth, begins the long and arduous process of overcoming his stammer.  His frustration and lack of tenacity is one of his largest character traits, his other is his temper, fueled by his own self-defeat.  Logue persistently uses George's own anger and traditionalism to unwittingly cure him of his fear of speaking.

The King’s Speech is a truly remarkable film.  The visual style is beautiful, filled with glorious wide-angle shots of some of England’s most astounding architecture.  Each shot is framed deliberately to both show us these characters and help us understand the world in which they live.  Soft lighting mixed with bright colors give the film the look of a great painting, at times it is quite something to behold.  The style and cinematography seem rooted in the Golden Age of cinema.  While watching I felt hints of Hitchcock and Mankiewicz mixed with some of the more common modern styles we are so accustomed to.

The most important part of a film like the King’s Speech is the screenplay, and David Seidler’s Oscar-winner is one of memorable joy and cleverness.  Most of Seidler’s previous writing credits are children and family films, which explained the rhythmic and upbeat dialogue in the film.  This style of writing (which was very common in the 40’s and 50’s but not so much today) is challenging, and it keeps the film fun and engaging.  The characters, however flawed they are, all seem human and likable because of their naturalistic yet formally delivered lines.  We believe these characters to be who they are, a level of cogency that does not rise very often in movies these days.  Aside from the naturalistic style of the screenplay there is also the quality of the comedy.  This is a very funny film, aside from being a drama set in one of history's darkest times.

Lastly, the performances in the King’s Speech are really the highlight.  The four primary characters are George (Colin Firth, who received an Oscar for this performance), Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter), Lionel (Geoffrey Rush) and George’s Brother King Edward VIII (Guy Pierce).  Every one of these performances are bright, lighting up the screen, delivering each line with energy and pitch-perfect execution.  Firth, Rush and Bonham-Carter are three of the greatest talents of this generation and with this film they have cemented themselves into film history.  Of this I am convinced.  If we put aside our black-and-white goggles, denying that all films of old are inherently superior to anything released today, it would not be hard to recognize the King’s Speech as one of the great examples of acting on screen, and should honestly ascend to the place held by the great film stories of all time.

So, back to the subject of perfection.  When a film is good, I say see it.  There are a lot of films released over the last ten or so years that I say “It’s so good!”  Sometimes people take my advice, sometimes they don’t.  I’m not going to say that about the King’s Speech (a winner of the Best Director (Tom Hooper) and Best Picture Oscars).  Instead, I will say the following, possibly controversial, statement: “THE KING’S SPEECH IS ONE OF THE BEST FILMS RELEASED IN THE LAST FIFTY YEARS.”  If that doesn’t anger the naysayers enough, I will proceed to call the King’s Speech one of the greatest films of all time, as I believe it is.

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