Feb 25, 2011

[Spoiler Alert] Best Picture Nominees #10: The King's Speech

And we come to the end of the review bonanza with The King's Speech, which is probably the best film of the year and is favored to win Best Picture at the Oscars. At its heart, the film stands as a testament to classic film-making and story structure. It unfolds as any
redemption story does. Man has seemingly unattainable goal, man enlists help to achieve that goal, man has certain setbacks both externally and internally, man has falling out with the other lead, man gets back together with the other lead in time to concur his fears and achieve his goals.  It's seen in movies that span the entire history of film, from It Happened One Night to Bring It On. It's easy to discount The King's Speech because of this.  Story-wise, it certainly isn't as inventive or nuanced as The Social Network or Winter's Bone. Instead, the film takes the conventional uses of style and narrative and works within those confines to wonderful effect. In the way The Social Network tries to be a character study of a complicated man and falters, The King's Speech succeeds because of its direct nature and wonderfully drawn characters.

Directed by Tom Hooper in a very sparse style, it's not a particularly flashy film (David Fincher's work is favored, and rightfully so). As far as epics go, this one is tame, but it's important for the film to be simple stylistically in order to highlight the four leads and the characters they portray. The acting in this film is simply tremendous. Colin Firth, who has given more memorable performances in his lifetime than, well, most people, is marvelous as Prince Albert/King George VI. His performance of yearning and palpable inferiority mixed with the duty of a king and the pomposity that goes with it is a sight to behold. Overlooked last year for his work in A Single Man, there has never been a more solid lock for a win in the Best Actor category. And deservedly so. The look of fear in his eyes as he struggles to utter even the most simple phrases is as emotionally wrenching as the first five minutes of Up. Geoffrey Rush is wonderful as well: witty and arrogant in a working class sort of way. His scenes with Firth are heartwarming and fascinating, and his mastery of the craft is unparalleled. He likely won't win the Oscar, but he is certainly a strong contender.

"Ma'am, as in ham"
The supporting players are equally amazing. Guy Pearce as Prince Edward gives a great performance as a man who realizes too late that charisma alone isn't enough to rule a country.  Michael Gambon is so good you almost forget how miscast he is in the Harry Potter franchise. Timothy Spall even takes a break from playing his normal array of creepy weasels to convincingly exude the commanding, comforting aura of Winston Churchill. The real winner in the supporting cast, though, is Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Queen Elizabeth with a sparkling wit, a sense of decorum, and a great capacity for love and understanding. It's easy to forget that Carter can act, since she's often in films where her costumes and hair do most of the talking. Of course, she always gives stellar performances, they just usually aren't as quiet as this one. She isn't in much of The King's Speech, playing second fiddle to Firth and Rush, but when the camera is on her she's electric. There's no faking that the glint in her eye or her commanding presence on screen. 

The script is great as well.  Moving and emotional without immediately turning to schlock, the script embodies the spirit of England: wonderful and reserved. Of course, no film is perfect.  There are does some weird fact rearranging, and anyone with a keen grasp of English history may balk at the exclusion of Edward's Communist leanings or the strange time line and sequence of events. Also, it's a little too neatly tied together at the end, with the real threat of war never feeling quite as actualized on screen as it could be. Granted, it's a great film, but there are moments where possibilities could have been more fully explored.

Still, a glorious film, and a wonderful addition to the history of Best Pictures should it win. Any movie wherein royalty curses out an open window gets my vote.

Good Movie: Yes
Best Picture:  It's theirs to lose
Score: 9/10
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