January 16, 2011

Speaking the 'Speech,' Firth, Rush Shine

Even though I knew The King's Speech would be entertaining, it wasn't a movie I was jumping to see.

Part of the problem was the subject (not the king's, ha, ha, but the movie's), which seemed, to my mind, rather a strange, trivial focus. It was almost as if the filmmakers were homing in on minutiae, rather than the important elements of the period (such as World War II), while producing what appeared to be an Oscar-targeted picture featuring components generally regarded as being agreeable to voters (kings, an early 20th century setting, fine British actors, etc.).

What I didn't know--and I chalk this up to my own ignorance--was that the speech impediment so painfully navigated by Britain's King George VI (portrayed with literal tripping on the tongue by Colin Firth) played such a large role in the political and social climate of wartime England. This was evidenced by Firth's climactic, halting but well-paced radio speech at the end, which established a confidence in me that I supposed was mirrored in the confidence of British listeners at the time. That's not just cosmetic; it's a resonance that I expect served to inspire.

And oh, yeah: The good guys won that war.

Directed by Tom Hooper, the film suggests that the king's impediment wouldn't have been soothed without the help of one Lionel Logue, a not-at-all-board-approved speech specialist played by the Geoffrey Rush with deft charm and sensitivity. I was somewhat disappointed that there wasn't more time spent on the "unorthodox" methods employed by Logue on the King, and that the movie seems to emphasize their sessions less than their results. The chemistry between the two actors, however, is wonderful, beautifully conveying the awkwardness of a commoner-king relationship that is absent in the romantic pairing of the king's brother (Guy Pearce, good as usual) with the not-very-royal (or demure, for that matter) Wallis Simpson (a strong but underused Eve Best).

Speech, to its credit, conveys all of these politically charged developments without resorting to facile pageantry, though I can't call the film a masterpiece, despite the deceptive nature of its scope. It's just not innovative or risky enough, and certain scenes felt clipped, as if the viewer wasn't getting everything. Still, after watching it, I didn't ask myself, "What was the reason for seeing this," as I'd do after a typical Coen Brothers movie. The strength of Rush's and Firth's portrayals, among others, drives the film, and this helps it last in the memory. That's a far-reaching achievement, and come Oscar time, it may help this picture move to the forefront among voters.

No comments:

Post a Comment