DIFF ’10 Review: The King’s Speech
Did DIFF’s opening gala movie live up to the hype?
On the opening day of Dubai International Film Festival, I sat down at JBR ‘The Walk’ (yeah DIFF, give us a red carpet invite the next time) in an open-air screening at the beach to enjoy the opening film ‘The King’s Speech’..
The movie stars Colin Firth (who also attended DIFF), Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter and is directed by oscar-winning director Tom Hooper. It’s riding on a lot of Oscar buzz and some people call Colin Firth a ‘lock’ for this year’s Best Actor.
True? Untrue? How does the movie fare? Read the review below and find out.
Period dramas are one of my least favorite genres in film. Most of the time, the result is a distant and emotion-less display of costumes and historical authencity instead of a strong narrative. Then why is ‘The King’s Speech’ one of my favorite movies of the year? It has the most relatable premise in film set in the backdrop of 1930′s Britain and powered with excellent performances, is a winner all the way.
The movie follows King George VI (Colin Firth) through the years that lead to World War II. George suffers from a major stuttering problem that affects his speeches majorly. After the death of his father and the abdication of his brother, he is unexpectedly crowned King and now has to lead an entire nation at a time of war. This of course also included addressing the nation live. To fix his problem, he hires a low-grade Australian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) who has his own unusual ways of treating him.
‘The King’s Speech’ works extremely well as a story of courage where one man conquers his flaw and rises up to the world. When the movie begins, we are treated to a sequence where George walks up nervously onto a crowd numbering in thousands to deliver a speech. The fear is extremely evident on his face as he stares at the audience. And then he begins to speak with the most uncomfortable and strong stammer you can think of. It’s a heartbreaking moment as we see a man of power struggle to utter a single line of his speech and it’s a great start to the movie. If this was a normal man, it wouldn’t lead to such dramatic tension. But when a potential heir to the Royal family has such a speech impediment, it’s a highly contrasting aspect that makes the character very much human. Now instead of being about a Duke we don’t relate to, it’s a Duke who persistently tries to conquer a crippling flaw. That makes it a much more emotionally connecting plot than the former.
What follows is George’s wife trying to find someone who can help him with the cure for the impediment. And while all others failed, a quirky speech therapist living in an apartment in the streets looks like a strange glitter of hope for George. What follows is a touching relationship as two men of wholly different classes begin to bond with each other and the speech therapy sessions are some of the most brilliantly written scenes all year. You see, Lionel Logue’s methods are pretty unorthodox. He asks way too many personal questions about the Duke, asks him to listen to loud music and speak out dialogue, and asks George to dance and sing in speech even. We can see how skeptical George is yet also how this looks to be working very well, no matter how odd. The dynamics between the two characters clashing and it leads to some very interesting scenes.
Apart from being a rousing drama, ‘The King’s Speech’ is also hilarious. In fact, some of the scenes in the movie trump the best comedies of the last few years in terms of laughter. There’s a wry British humor undercurrent throughout and a specific scene involving George being asked to utter a spontaneous line of expletives in order to let out his fear and anger. And the awkward result of George doing so is one of the funniest scenes I’ve witnessed in quite some time. And it’s not cheap slapstick humor for the sake of it. The humor integrates perfectly into the tone the movie tries to achieve and never disrupts it in any way and goes into all-out comedy mode.
But beside being a character study, the movie also works extremely well as a tale about the British royal rule itself just before World War II arrives. We see King George V in his final days and his relationship with the Duke. We see how David is given the kingdom and how he abdicates himself to marry a questionable woman, leaving the throne in George’s hand. The progress in this story is predictable since we already know how it will turn out but it’s well executed and stands as a perfect backdrop to the smaller story within. There’s also the impending threat of World War II and Hitler which isn’t delved into too much but plays an important part in the final act itself.
Hands-on the biggest aspect of the movie is terrific performances across the board, especially by Colin Firth. He embodies the character so realistically that it’s easy to believe how this flaw is affecting him. His stutter is perfect and his facial expressions that show fear when faced with a speech-giving moment are classic. His bursts of anger and emotion are pitch-perfect. They weren’t kidding – Colin Firth is almost a definite lock for Best Actor this year. Geoffrey Rush is brilliant as a speech therapist that forms a great bond with a higher class and his dialogue delivery complements the character perfectly. Helena Bonham Carter plays the Queen well, and Michael Gambon is very effective in a limited role.
‘The King’s Speech’ is not only one of the finest movies of the year, it’s a movie that thoroughly lives up to the buzz it has acquired and excels in more than one aspects. It’s an emotional, inspiring and brilliantly acted drama that doesn’t stutter when it comes to delivering on quality.