Big Screen Brain: The King’s Speech

I wish that this was a play.

The fact of the matter is, it just isn’t spectacular enough on enough levels to be a big deal as a movie. There are elements where it is lacking. There are elements where it is overcompensating. The ultimate result is a film that leaves you feeling good for about five minutes. But then you start thinking about it, and you realize that the experience was actually largely unsatisfying.

The great failing of The King’s Speech is that the cinematography and the sound editing – basically, the two elements that make it a film rather than a stage play (wide availability aside) – were executed in a spectacularly poor fashion. It’s as if the film was put together piecemeal by multiple people with various styles, none of whom were communicating with each other at all. Half of the film is shot in awkward close-enough-to-count-nosehairs close-ups. The other half is comprised of exaggerated diagonal shots whose sole purpose seems to be to make the film look more impressively rendered than it is. There is a similar dichotomy present in the soundtrack.

My favorite (and by that I mean least favorite) shot in the entire film comes at the beginning, when the Duke of York (Colin Firth) and his speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) meet for the first time. They are seated across from each other, Rush in a chair and Firth at the far end of a couch, and the camera is positioned in exactly the right place to make Firth appear to be about half the size of his costar. My mind immediately went to the hours of Lord of the Rings extras I watched; particularly, one segment about all the tricks the makers of those films used to make the human-sized actors playing hobbit-sized-characters and the human-sized actors playing human-sized characters appear to be different sizes. One trick involved placing two actors in the same shot, but at different distances from the camera, and cheating the environment. That is exactly what that first meeting in The King’s Speech looks like.

Now, the presence of other shots in the film where Firth is made to overwhelmed by the largeness of his environment implies that this was intentional rather than the result of shoddy work. Thank goodness for small favors, I suppose. Congratulations on attempting to make the film’s visual and emotional elements co-reflect, I suppose. The concept is a good one. The result, however, is disappointing and amateurish.

As I said, the other notable shortfalling of The King’s Speech is its soundtrack. For the majority of the film, either there is no music or what music there is is so subtle that it might as well not be there at all. There are a few scenes where the lack of music is actually quite an effective choice – pleasantly effective, I mean. There are also scenes where the very very prominent music is effective in a very horrible way.

The first such scene comes at the touchy-feely apology scene where Firth’s and Rush’s characters put aside their differences and admit they are in fact Really Good Friends After All. This is one segment of the movie that features some excellent writing and it is a genuinely touching scene. However. Apparently someone decided that there was absolutely no way an audience could figure out the happy emotional theme on their own, and so decided to blast what can only be called mood music to the point where it begins to distract from the scene itself. In simple terms: it is really annoying.

Even worse is the finale scene – the one the title of the movie indicates. The moment is all about Colin Firth, all about the culmination of his character’s struggles, and all about the speech (which is the actual speech that was delivered by George VI at the start of Britain’s participation in WWII). Or at least it should be. Unfortunately, the audience is not given a chance to appreciate the absolutely fantastic delivery of what is still easily recognizeable as one damn epic speech. Why? Because the This Is Important Moment! music is SO LOUD that Colin Firth is barely audible. The choice is a bad one and the result is quite unfortunate.

ALL THAT ASIDE. I can recommend The King’s Speech for at least one reason, and that is the acting. At least half of the great British actors you have ever heard of are in this film, as is one exceptional Australian. And they are all so good.

The Australian is Guy Pearce (Memento) who would easily have stolen the show if he had been given any more screen time. He brought his usual chameleon-freak-like abilities to the set of The King’s Speech as well as a mid-century upper-class English accent so flawless that, according to Colin Firth in an interview with NPR, it put the actually English actors rather to shame.

Helena Bonham Carter fully embraced this opportunity to remind the world that she can do something besides feature in her crazy husband’s crazy movies – her start in the business was with English period dramas, and it is easy to see why. Michael Gambon (most lately of Harry Potter) and Jennifer Ehle (most notably of A&E’s Pride and Prejudice mini-series) play minor roles, but they are both excellent and memorable. Ehle’s (and Firth’s) P&P costar David Bamber is one of a group of renowned British actors who appear in the film in almost cameo-like capacities (others include Derek Jacobi, Claire Bloom, and Timothy Spall).

Naturally, the two most notable performances come from the two key characters. Geoffrey Rush bears absolutely no resemblance to the creepy, oddball characters that have made up a good portion of his career in recent years. With his native Aussie accent at hand, he delivers Lionel Logue as an incredibly human character who has just enough of the oddball in him to make the insane methods he uses seem like believable choices.

And Colin Firth. What can I not say about Colin Firth’s performance in this movie. He is truly, truly great. If there were nothing else to recommend this movie (and, really, it is not nearly as lacking as I may have made it sound), his performance would be reason enough to see this film. I can give no higher compliment than that.

The King’s Speech is not a terrible movie. Nor is it a great one by any stretch of the imagination. There is potential for, with a few alterations to the script, a really excellent stage drama. (If only we could keep the same cast!) The story is such a great one; I just wish all the elements of the film had come together to tell the story in a way that does it any amount of justice.

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