Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The King’s Speech

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.



Husam Arif said...

What a depth full review! I have nothing to disagree on. Well done!

Yojimbo_5 said...

I would never call Tom Hooper subtle, not after slogging through his work on "John Adams," with its superfluous dutch-angles, its oblique entrances and off-kilter framing, and the occassional camera "stunt." He IS smoothing out, however, with some interesting ideas and a bit too much wide-angle lens for my taste.

I don't agree that Elizabeth is "detached" so much as "elevated," she knows her role and in accepting it, embraces it. HBC is an actress playing an actress—something that this portrayal has in common with Helen Mirren's portrayal of Elizabeth's daughter.

One commenter has stated that The King's Speech missed the mark by not showing Albert's change from supporter of fascist appeasers (like his brother and Chamberlain) to becoming the man he must be to defend his country. I think the plate is full despite it, but it's interesting that they didn't want to complicate the story too much, or make Albert look anything less than sympathetic.

Still like Franco for Best Actor, but Firth was spot-on. And I'm grateful for what they did with the final "speech."

CMrok93 said...

The best element of this film is the performances, and chemistry between Firth and Rush, which brings the real heart to the film. Good Review!

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that big chunks of your review focuses on both Seidler and Hooper's pace. I'll watch this one day to keep that element mind.

Or it's choices in the story. The same way Hooper's The Damned United only takes like, one minute of exposition of Brian Clough's glory days as the coach for Nottingham after 119 minutes of his time with Leeds, because the public know more about the former than the latter. Similarly, with The King's Speech, they only needed to show one rousing speech from George because how he got there was more important for the film's sake.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

husam well, thank you very much. although, i'll admit i like disagreements ;)

yojimbo okay, maybe subtle is the wrong word - i don't know, he just never makes me think that he's TRYING TOO HARD. and ooooh, i LOVE that reading of elizabeth, wish i'd thought of it. (i really wish they'd have examined that relationship more, he has to have been a little exasperating.)

dan thanks, the chemistry between the two IS beautiful.

paolo yeah, story and pacing. even though the screenplay does things i don't love, it's wonderfully paced (and as for pacing and direction, that entire opening scene comes to mind.)

M. Carter @ the Movies said...

I'll say right now I was biased in favor of this film because my love for Geoffrey Rush is bested only by my love for Colin Firth. So both of them in the same film? My idea of Heaven. Well, Incomplete Heaven. In Real Heaven both of them would be fighting over me.

Acting aside (and it's all fabulous), my favorite part of "The King's Speech" is the cinematography, which is quite different from what you'd see in most historical films. Usually, it's the expanse and grandeur that is highlighted; here, everything feels constricted, tight, uncomfortable. I love how the ending marks a change from that: instead of constricted, the small space -- just the microphone, Firth and Rush -- feels comforting, welcoming.

Ross McG said...

that seems a fair assessment Andrew. i liked the film but it was no more than solid to me. Firth is great, of course, but maybe i was expecting something a bit more surprising than a sunday afternoon flick from this

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

m. carter i thought i'd be biased, i love HBC to death, big fan of geoffrey and love firth whenever he teams up with weinstein (re: the english patient, shakespeare in love.) and i did like it very much, just didn't LOVE it.

ross it wasn't as LOUD as you'd have expected, very sedate...which i don't really hate it for, but just a bit surprising.

TomS said...

Andrew I seem to be falling behind here...You have had lots of great posts of late.

A nice review here. The King's Speech has been difficult to see objectively because the hype has been out of proportion to what it intends to offer, which is solid classic filmmaking , at which it succeeds beautifully. And I really identified with the difficulties you described in approaching the film for review, but you did a wonderful job of it.

To me this movie is like reading a Dickens novel after long months of modernists like William Vollman and Thomas realize just how enjoyable something like this can be, and are reminded why you loved movies in the first place.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

tom i'm still backing this all the way as far as awards' are concerned because though it's not my favourite - it has its heart in the right place, i think. it IS hard to think objectively, and the hate is overwhelming (and unfortunate) since it's not at all officious in its intents, just all really low-key. ah, well.