Saturday, April 14, 2012

The King’s Speech (2010) ***

Given that Colin Firth is good in literally anything you cast him in, I was not surprised when I finally got around to watching “The King’s Speech” to find it an enjoyable film. For me, however, this movie is burdened by the weight of all the Academy Awards it won, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay. To me it is ridiculous that this talky, old-fashioned story of English Royalty and WWII so completely beat out movies like “The Social Network,” “Black Swan,” “Winter’s Bone,” and “Toy Story 3.” I suppose it just highlights how subjective the awards process is, and how ultimately futile it is to pit works of art against one another, as if they are Olympic athletes performing before judges.

“The King’s Speech” introduces us to a mildly interesting piece of English history. Prince Albert (Colin Firth), second son of King George V, apparently suffered from a stammer. When the king died, Albert’s older brother Edward took the throne, but he soon abdicated in order to marry the divorced, American party-girl Wallace Simpson. This left the throne to Albert, who adopted the name George VI. Of course, even in the 1930’s, the English monarchy was only ceremonial, but one imagines that the King still served as an inspiring symbol for the British people, and with WWII on the way, the people would need inspiration. The burden of providing that fell to Albert and his stammer.

The story of the efforts of Albert and his speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to control Albert’s stammer enough for him to make public speeches is an engaging one, even if it does drag a bit at times. Both actors are consummate professionals, and their chemistry is excellent. The film can drag when they are apart, but when they are on screen together, I cannot look away.

I do find it hard, at the end of the day, to take very seriously the impact on history of the head of a ceremonial monarchy having had a speech impediment. Until this film, history certainly seemed to have forgotten the issue. When people think of the beginning of WWII, they don’t think of the king’s speech, they think of the inspiring speeches given by Winston Churchill. Nonetheless, “The King’s Speech” is an inspiring little human story about friendship and overcoming personal challenges.

3 stars

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