The Culture Beat

February 27, 2011

If The King’s Speech Wins . . . Here’s Why

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alex @ 8:31 pm

The buzz leading up to the Oscars indicated that a small British film, made for fifteen million dollars, about a British monarch most Americans probably never heard of, will take the top awards. By the time you see this, we’ll know if The King’s Speech won—if it does, here are some reasons why.

Number one—Colin Firth’s portrayal of the King George VI, a most unlikely choice for being the symbolic head of his country. Being second in line to the throne, Albert, his given name, has a crippling stammer, which makes public speaking a terror to him and painful for his audience. He enlists the help of an unconventional Australian speech coach, Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush, who insists that the prince follow his rules, meet at his office and apply the unusual techniques to control his stammer. This makes for great dramatic interplay between a royal personage and a commoner and both actors make the most of it. But Firth’s unique ability to capture the dread and discomfort of a character is what hooks audiences and earned him the nomination for Best Actor.

Albert is an understandably private man, content to be with his wife, Elisabeth and his two daughters, including the future Queen Elisabeth II. The speech lessons allow him to manage his public speaking duties and his terror subsides some.

But when irresponsible older brother, King Edward VIII, abdicates the throne to marry a thrice divorced woman, Albert must face his deepest fears of living a much more public life leading the British people as the representative of it centuries long monarchy. And with the storm clouds of war gathering on the horizon as Nazi Germany begins its attacks on European countries, the newly crowned George VI needs his speech coach more than ever to rally the nation for the coming battle.

By mid-February, this little historical character study has earned almost one hundred million dollars and was still in theaters after its Thanksgiving week release. Why has it proven such a popular film?

Firth’s riveting performance is the core of the film’s appeal of course. But Oscar voters, like the audience that has made the movie so successful, love a well-done period piece with proper British characters in dramatized historical settings. The King’s Speech is a reminder that films don’t have to cost one hundred million dollars to have high production values, absorbing drama, great performances and transporting narratives.

There have been several criticisms of the film that don’t surprise me. One is that it’s a rather conventional biographical story—historical figure must face challenges both within and without and an unlikely person allows him to overcome his handicap to triumph in the end. In that sense, the film itself isn’t too novel, it simply executes its version of this familiar story arc in a very accomplished manner. As I watched the film’s plot proceed and various dramatic scenes play out, I wondered just how much of this was concocted for dramatic purposes—I think the film has maybe two scenes too many of tense interplay between Bertie and George.

And indeed, there has been criticism about the historical details of the film, such as how the royal family were reluctant opponents to the German threat. Logue’s grandson has written an account of the relationship between Lionel and the prince that was far more amicable than the dramatized one onscreen. This is yet another reminder to not take movie history as a credible source of what actually happened—movies aim first to entertain, and accuracy is usually in spite of the changes screenwriters make to tell an absorbing story in two hours.

That keep me from giving it four out of four stars. And for the record, I won’t mind or be surprised if The King’s Speech wins best picture and Firth wins a deserved Best Actor Oscar. I personally think Toy Story 3 was a far greater cinematic achievement but the Academy is biased against even the most artistic animated films. I stopped caring much who wins at the Oscars years ago— some awards are bound to disappoint and hardly anyone will remember who won this time next year. The Oscars are mainly about Hollywood self-congratulation and publicity and The King’s Speech is a perfectly deserving if predictable choice.


1 Comment »

  1. I agree 100%!!

    Comment by Jim — March 7, 2011 @ 8:48 pm | Reply

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