Summary: Warm, resonant, and perfectly crafted cinema that pops with strong performances.
Review: Something I notice about great movies is that they often play so strongly that it makes me wonder how everybody else missed the mark. The drama is so deceptively organic that it leaves me, the stumbling storyteller, wondering how I became such a dunce. If filmmaking is like a farming metaphor, ‘The King’s Speech’ was ripe for the picking. If in truth we’re all walking about blindfolded, director Tom Hooper and company had fate’s guiding hand. It’s so good that they must have cheated.
I’ll put off the puffery for a moment. ‘The King’s Speech’ appears as a simple story, an inspirational drama about overcoming personal difficulties to do great things. The trouble is, great movies like this aren’t simple, they’re just compact. The tapestry is woven tight. There are no bizarre rabbit trails or meaningless moments bridging story beats. Every word, every shot, every emotional beat is part of the organism. No perfect dividing line exists between good and bad cinema, but certainly one of them is unity.
Here’s what I mean. ‘The King’s Speech’ appears simple because its emotional center never sways, always developing the central character in direct and indirect ways, examining him from every angle; character, culture, criticisms, and whatever is necessary. If you said, “It’s a film about British monarchy in the early days of World War II”, you would be partly correct. In a strictly dramatic sense, the only reason the British monarchy is in this story about a king is that it reveals something about his character, a vital part of his emotional journey. Even saying, “It’s about speech therapy“, is not completely on the mark.
There’s a tool you’ve probably heard of that storytellers use to help isolate the kernel of emotional truth behind a good story. This is a premise. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just dramatically sufficient. Consider this version of the premise from IMDB: “The story of King George VI of Britain, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch become worthy of it.” If in some way any moment of the film diverts from this premise, there’s something wrong. You’ll notice. Compromising unity is like breaking a bone. It makes forward movement awkward at best. Again, I quote Stanley Kubrick, “A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.” Filmmaking is not like writing a novel, designing a video game, or painting, well, a painting. They all have things in common, to be sure, but in effect film is music evolved.
Okay, now that I’ve rattled off my usual cool, detached analysis, here’s a little specificity. I loved, perhaps most of all, the familial element. Despite a distinctly tragic backdrop — both personally for George VI and culturally — it felt warm. Human. Relatable. Whimsical, maybe. I had this big silly grin on my face for most of its running time; that is, when the filmmakers weren’t yanking the tears out of my ducts. Partially it was from the clear, classical craftsmanship, but mostly it came from the performances. If Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush get Oscars, they deserve them. Unsung, I feel, is Guy Pearce as Edward VIII. I didn’t realize it was him until the theater lights came on. And I mustn’t forget Helena Bonham Carter! She’s the picture’s backbone.
I love this film. As a resonant, accessible story (forget the swearing!) and clever cinema, it’s not only Oscar-worthy, it’s classic.