Great men are often propped up by those behind the scenes. Usually they aren’t give much credit until many years later, when their stories are looked at more closely. Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech is about such a man – a plethora of physical imperfections wreaked havoc on his self-confidence to the point where it was his own personal nightmare that he would have to ever be King. It wasn’t just that he didn’t feel fit to rule, it was the horror of public speaking with a childhood stammer that plagued him as an adult.
The idea behind Tom Hooper’s exquisite The King’s Speech is that disabilities do not have to limit one’s possibilities. With the help of Lionel Logue (the versatile Geoffrey Rush) the reluctant King is able to figure out how to get through it. Public speaking would never be easy, and he would have the assistance of Logue throughout his reign and short life (he ultimately died of lung cancer, though that’s not in the film). Someone somewhere thought it was a great idea to tell this story. The beauty, though, is in the execution. The King’s Speech could have been much more melodramatic and overwrought. Thanks to the subtle directing of Hooper, and the thoughtful acting choices by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, and even Bonham-Carter (despite the slightly distracting royal accent) the film feels authentic – the emotions aren’t traded cheaply.
The King’s Speech is about the man who WAS King after the man who would be King abdicated the throne in order to marry his lifelong love, Wallis Simpson (the subject of Madonna’s upcoming W.E.) That love story has been the more compelling one throughout history, but the better story is that of King George VI, Elizabeth’s father, who reluctantly took the job when his brother couldn’t. His fear of public speaking because of a stammer is what prevented him from even thinking he could be Britain’s ruler.
It is believable that whatever caused his stammer – whether it was being forced to write with his right hand when he was left-handed, or his domineering, verbally abusive father — or a combination of those things plus the pressure of being one of the royals to begin with, all led to his being paralyzed to speak. There isn’t a single moment in the film when it’s unbelievable that Firth couldn’t speak.
The brilliance of Firth’s performance is that he manages to make it believable that he wasn’t as breathtakingly good looking as he is. There is a never a moment where you think, “come on – THIS guy has problems doing anything in life?” Somehow he isn’t quite as tall or dashing. Somehow he is the least interesting person in the room. The contrasting personalities between Firth and Rush drives the tension in the film. And watching these two expert actors volley back and forth is a rare pleasure. Both are classically trained actors, Firth having gone to the Drama Centre in London and Rush from the Queensland Theatre Company and the L’√âcole Internationale de Th√©√¢tre Jacques Lecoq. They know their way around human emotions and they make choices that are unpredictable, and emotionally penetrating. All I kept thinking was how much fun it must have been for the two of them to act with such a formidable co-star.
The film’s crisis point has to do with the first speech King George must give on the eve of World War II. It’s a subtle climax but meaningful in that it takes place on the eve of World War II as Hitler is readying for battle. Apparently Hitler thought King George VI was a fool. The film doesn’t go there but it does point out the irony in Hitler’s natural genius with public speaking.
The costumes, art direction and cinematography will likely be nominated, upping the film’s total take. That, along with the three guaranteed Oscar nominations (with Helen Bonham Carter making up the third) makes The King’s Speech one of the big Oscar players this year. It also stands out for being a more traditional Oscar favorite – a period film, dealing with WWII, and set in Britain. That is both its main draw and its main drawback; while the Oscars go for films set in Britain, they don’t do it as often as one would think. American stories still rule the day.
Apparently The King’s Speech has been playing well in screenings, which is another reason people see it as a force to be reckoned with. One thing it is that is not under dispute: a showcase of two of the best performances of the year.
Best Director – Tom Hooper
Best Actor – Colin Firth
Best Supporting Actor – Geoffrey Rush
Best Supporting Actress – Helen Bonham Carter