You can always expect the British to come out fighting in the Movie Awards Season every now and again. We’ve seen the likes of Slumdog Millionaire take exceptional glory at all the awards boards, and this year we have another that is generating a certain amount of buzz in the form of the The King’s Speech. They seem to come out of no where, I have to say I wasn’t entirely aware of this film until about two months ago, if that. But it certainly has the ingredients to more than satisfy all award boards, a true, well-crafted, expertly acted period piece that is uplifting and entertaining. The question is whether it has enough to win over the American award boards, as you can easily bet that this will sweep the board at the BAFTAs. On evidence from what is here, it certainly has the potential to be in with a real chance in a very competitive year.
This is very much a film where the story is its driving force, all the emotional responses we have as the audience are generated from substance not style or flamboyant camerawork. Director Tom Hooper (The Damned United) keeps his camera very static, with some interesting framing choices, yet never looses focus of our main character, Prince Albert, who soon becomes King George VI (Colin Firth). The film charts Albert’s, whose nickname is Bertie, struggle to overcome his biggest flaw, a speech impediment which grips him whenever he has to make a public speech and during any confrontation he may have in life. And having a speech impediment is not exactly a fitting attribute for a member of the Royal Family to have. Bertie’s wife, Liz (Helena Boham Carter) enlists the help of the unorthodox speech therapist Lionel (Geoffrey Rush) for Bertie to overcome this embarrassing problem which has held him back his whole life. Lionel and Bertie strike up a friendship, which becomes very important as circumstances lead to Bertie having to become the King of England.
It’s the story that drives the film forward and the characters that drive the story. It’s the relationship between Bertie and Lionel that interests you the most, giving the film its best moments which are genuinely funny and where the characters develop. The speech therapy sessions allow for a natural friendship to develop between Bertie and Lionel, as Lionel gets the initially reluctant Bertie to open up through his unorthodox methods and determination to get Bertie to realise the potential he has. It certainly is a feel-good movie, Rocky set in the Monarchy if you will. The therapy sessions are the training and the War-time speech at the end is the final boxing bout that gives the main character the chance to prove himself, and you are hooked on every word and sentence of the speech by the end of it.
It’s also through the speech therapy that Bertie learns not only to deal with his speech impediment but also to learn to face up to the fact that he may have to become King, whilst also coming to terms with his upbringing and family life. Although you may think that the life of a Royal is a very privileged life, which it is as the film highlights with the swanky events and such, but it is also shown as a restricted and quite detached life. Bertie is a reluctant royal, and appears to have a good family life with his own wife and children, but his own relationship with his father and mother seems very detached. The family has to put on a front for the public and every decision they make is scrutinised not only by the public but by the Church as well. It’s a life that has to have expectations met, hence why Bertie’s speech impediment is such a disadvantage for him in his life then it may be for any average Joe. The look into the life of the Royals is a very interesting part of the film, but it is more of the relationship outside the family which provokes the most response.
It is a fairly slow-paced film, which doesn’t really prove to be much of a problem, but the focus on Bertie’s brother, who had a short-lived reign as King Edward VIII (played by Guy Pearce), slacks the pace at some points, mostly because the character isn’t particularly interesting and quite narrow-minded that he’s hard to care for. It’s no fault of the performance of Guy Pearce, and the only fault I can say for this movie is that the pacing does slack a tad, but it’s not too distracting.
The main reason this movie works so well and is proving to be such a good Awards contender is not just the true feel good story but the brilliant acting talent on show. Colin Firth is brilliant; it is the sort of performance you’d expect from him, having a slight nervous disposition, although this one asks much more of him, requiring him to work on his character through both his speech and body language. He delivers a genuinely sympathetic performance which is what makes the character likeable and easy to follow. Geoffrey Rush is also on fine form, he’s funny, intelligent and a genuine character, and gives a performance that is a far cry away from the likes of Captain Barbossa. Helena Boham Carter gives a welcomingly reserved performance as Bertie’s loving wife Liz. It’s good to see her doing something different from strange, Tim Burton characters and give in a performance like this which shows how down to Earth and versatile she is as a performer. The film rides on the strength of these three central performances, but there is some strong support from the likes of British thesps Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon and Timothy Spall putting on his best Winston Churchill impression.
So back to the main question, is there enough here to impress voters on the other side of the pond? Personally, considering the competition this year, which sees the likes of The Social Network and Inception gaining a certain amount of buzz, I can’t see it winning the big prize at the Oscars or Golden Globes. It is more due to the competition than the actual quality of this movie, which will see its fair share of its awards. Although, I have been wrong before.