Sitting down to review The King’s Speech is a chore in itself – and I’ve been putting it off for such days. It’s difficult to separate the film from the currently (somewhat vague) antagonism that’s surrounding it in the face of its recent PGA win and Oscar nominations and, more so when I think about how long I’ve been waiting to see it. Hooper, often interested in touching on big names in history, turns to King George VI for his latest monarch’s relationship with his speech therapist – the Australian Lionel Logue. As Lionel and Bertie continue through the slog of familial issues and their effects on speech the King is faced with alternating pressures on the home front, a caring – if vaguely detached wife, a seemingly disappointed father and a caddish brother. The King’s Speech is a film that’s unconventional in its conventionality. True, the tale has little to suggest that it’s anything daring or brash but screenwriter David Seidler decides to root the film in a placidness where plotpoints develop not in the usual cinematic spurts but expand sedately – even lethargically – easing along, bit by bit.
It’s an approach that’s necessary because Hooper and company are interested in assessing Bertie not in relation to anyone else but in relation to himself, which renders The King’s Speech extraneous political affairs well, umm, extraneous. It sets itself up as a psychiatric drama, because you’d more likely have reason to measure this against The Prince of Tides (the middle portion at least) where a pleasant doctor aids someone with a troubled past than The Madness of King George an ostensibly similar story of a monarch at odds with himself and those around him. There’s no evidence to suggest that Hooper IS interested in making a prototypical monarch piece but his vision reeks of being indistinctly insular at portions at times because the staunchness with which the focus appears on Bertie and Logue gives the film a feeling of limitedness. Sort of like a dance with two players, but a host of superfluous – if diverting – participants meandering around; reminding me a bit of O. Russell and his occasional inclination to forget that The Fighter should be an ensemble drama.
It’s not that Hooper’s vision is dissonant in discerning what his film is about, but the supporting players around are on their own interesting enough to demand pertinent bits of storyline that their sorely lacking. One of the scene that plays out best in the film has George’s wife (a very serene Helena Bonham Carter) having a chat with Mr. Logue – Rush’s first appearance on screen. This meeting suggests things in both parties that you think would be addressed, but aren’t. Bonham Carter plays with just the right winsome air where she’s the standard Queen with just a tinge of snob about her (tea at the Logue’s) that’s not off-putting but part of her attraction. As interested as she is in ridding Bertie of his issues she’s not exactly driven by devotion, it’s an arc – their entire relationship – that seems especially perplexing when you’d expect his marriage to play as important a role in his speech as his family history. Measure that against Pearce’s cavalier older brother (probably the best work I’ve seen from him) who’s the right amount of cheeky and sanctimonious – without ever being despicable. Firth thrives against them both, so it seems a bit of a disservice to the narrative to have emotional peaks of the story develop behind closed doors – even if the metaphor there is amusing.
And, it’s not to say that the story that we’re actually given is poor – because the alacrity of the screenplay is one of the most charming things about the film. It avoids the most simplistic of traps by stopping the narrative just before George (with Elizabeth) experience seismic popularity. It’s a sort of representation of what Hooper and his company does best – he’s always able to prevent over-saturation. There’s something a bit too on-the-nose about the adage “less is more” but Hooper knows it well. He knows when to cut scenes and moreover when to END the story because as much as The King’s Speech has potential to tell us more it also has obvious potential to be overwrought which The King’s Speech avoids – it’s too classy for that. The thing is, it’s that sort of classiness that wafts over you after perusal, and though I’m not especially prone to the more obvious but sometimes Hooper’s penchant for subtlety descends into innocuousness. And, yes, in the end the payoff works because of – and not in spite of – that opting for a conclusion that’s enduring in its smoothness that I can appreciate for being so well done. It's a bit like Hooper was internalising the DESIDERATA and it's famous advice, go placidly amidst the noise and haste and it does do placid beautifully. It's not a discredit to the film that's it's more interested in the introspective than the extrospective, and yes it errs when it comes to examining those around Bertie. Sure, I'll admit I wanted better, but that's not really a judgement on the film itself - what was served up was perfectly fine, circumscribed on occasion - but laudable.