Saturday, February 23, 2013

The King's Speech (2010)

Director: Tom Hooper                                   Writer: David Seidler
Film Score: Alexandre Desplat                      Cinematography: Danny Cohen
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, and Guy Pearce

The King’s Speech is one of the best films to come around in a long time, well deserving of the Academy Award for best picture. In addition to stellar performances by the entire cast, the film sports an intelligent and humorous script by David Seidler who had written mostly television scripts up until this point, and at the time was the oldest person to win the Oscar for best original screenplay. And what a screenplay it was. Not only was he able to capture the seriousness of the transfer of power in the English monarchy on the precipice of World War II, but he was also able to inject a tremendous amount of intelligent humor into the script as well.

The story opens on Prince Albert, Duke of York, (Colin Firth) in 1925. Paralyzed with anxiety in front of audiences because of his stutter, he is unable to fulfill his role in speaking engagements. His wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) seeks help from an unorthodox speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). The key element, at least at first, is Logue’s insistence that he be put on an equal footing with the Prince, which is of course completely unacceptable to the royals. But when Albert, “Bertie” to his family and what Logue begins calling him, has a breakthrough, both Albert and Elizabeth realize that it would be foolish not to avail themselves of the man’s talents.

The real beauty of the film is in watching the relationship develop between Firth and Rush. Unlike most British citizens of the time, Rush's Logue is not the least bit intimidated by their Royal Highnesses. In fact, when they initially refuse to abide by his insistence on equality, he tells them he can’t help and turns them away--along with the implied payment that would accompany such a client. As Logue, Rush has supreme belief in his skills and refuses to back down and give the royals the obsequious treatment they are used to. Ultimately, his theory is born out, and the relationship ceases to be one of class and gradually becomes one of friendship. Despite a falling out, Logue is there for the Prince all the way through his ascension to becoming King George VI.

Colin Firth has been a British star for decades now. He was nominated for an Oscar the year before in A Single Man, but was justifiably awarded the trophy for The King’s Speech. Geoffrey Rush is easily the best British character actor working today. Since his Academy Award winning performance in Shine in 1996, he has become a fixture on the screen. But the real treasure in the film is Helena Bonham Carter. It’s absolutely wonderful to see her back in a serious role after being mired for so long in dreck like the Tim Burton and Harry Potter films. True, she became a little too serious for a while after her breakout in A Room with a View, and her later roles no doubt helped her become a more rounded performer, but the subtle humor with which she injects her character is absolutely brilliant and one hopes that she continues with more of these kinds of roles. In the end, The King’s Speech is simply one of those films that is so clearly a masterpiece that it is a joy to watch from beginning to end.

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