The King’s Speech (2010) Dir. Tom Hooper
It’s unbelievable that The King’s Speech is being called the best movie of the year, and, in fact, it’s way behind its Oscar competition.
While I was watching it, one word came to mind: artificiality. Every aspect of The King’s Speech seems distanced from reality. Each of the characters is fixed on one thing as if their whole life depended on it. They resemble actors on stage, acting out their parts instead of flesh and blood people. The movie strikes as awfully theatrical. Apart from unconvincing characters, the designs spoil the movie, as well. The apartments or Logue’s studio can never be mistaken for a place where people actually live and work. They serve as a background to the characters: wallpapers composes nice shots, chairs point a place of conversations, microphones cover the poor king, clearly separating him from us. This theatricality takes away the freedom of camera movement. The theatrical stage is a confined, limited space, which actors need to fill. Everything happens in one place because the audience needs to see clearly. Unlike theater, the camera should move easily in a movie. In this case, it doesn’t. One more important aspect that we could label artificial turns out the threat of the Second World War. The movie makes it so distant that it doesn’t feel like a threat, at all. Speaking in public is a thing from a nightmare – it dominates both the king and the movie.
Moving on, Lionel (Geoffrey Rush) and Bertie’s (Colin Firth) friendship turns out quite interesting. In spite of the king’s refuses, Lionel notoriously keeps calling him Bertie, a nickname reserved for the family and closes friends. From the very beginning, he wants their relationship to go beyond patient-doctor arrangement. He wants it to be based on mutual trust. Yet, Bertie, fed up with tiring and ridiculous exercises many speech experts ordered him to do, can’t afford such luxury as trusting another specialist. Lionel decides to gain the king’s trust, and help him even against his will, as it seems sometimes. Apart from showing the king a series of exercises, simply to relax the muscles, Lionel acts as an amateur psychologist. He understands that the stutter comes from psychological problems. Here, it boils down to Lionel and Bertie’s talks about the king’s childhood, a traumatic experience with his first nanny, and issues with his father and brother. Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that an atmosphere of (not always healthy) competition with his brother (Guy Pearce), later King Edward VIII, encouraged by their own father (Michael Gambon), King George V, may result in major personal issues. Lionel tries to get to the bottom of things, but there’s no depth to it. There’s nothing left for us to think about since all the answers and conclusions are plainly given to us. They’re simply said in dialogue.
What makes matters worse, the cinematography exaggerates the effect that the movie is artificial and superficial. It’s somehow off-putting. The images are exaggerated and slightly distorted. It works for a few shots, maybe scenes, but it’s consequent throughout the movie. The only purpose it serves is to accentuate the king’s fear of public speaking. Pretty quickly we understand why certain camera angles are used, and it becomes too obvious, in your face, and tiring. The filmmakers make the halls look longer, rooms and chambers larger, and the world most unnatural. The camera follows the king’s perspective so we often see people from slightly low key angle – this way they appear scary, especially in public situations so overwhelming to the king. Again, these visual tricks should help us understand the king’s predicament, but there are too many of them, as if it’s not enough to talk about the king’s problem – we visually need to be bombarded with it.
As for the title king’s speech, sadly, the movie lacks intensity even there. The speech feels more like a result of all the exercise we’ve seen, instead of a final tackle with his greatest fear. As far as the king’s problem is concerned, the movie doesn’t change its rhythm or pace, doesn’t intensify. It’s more gripping to watch how Lionel and Bertie’s friendship develops, how they contrast, almost oppose each other. It’s also more gripping to watch how the king’s brother treats him, mocking his impediment – they behave the same as they did when they were children. A tough brotherly love. Unfortunately, we watch the king (virtually) be devoured by a huge mic, be dominated by it. I, for one, was more absorbed in a scene when Lionel forced the king to read a fragment from “Hamlet.” At least, there was suspense in that brief scene. The final scene: no suspense, no intensity, no emotions. The King’s Speech fails to tell a story about the king overcoming his weakness. Instead, it’d better turn out as a depiction of the British royal family, but we’ve already seen many of those.
The King’s Speech aims to present the perspective of the king, who, at the same time, fights with his stutter, and learns how to be a king (here, one equals the other). As much as Colin Firth’s performance is grand (still, not as grand as in A Single Man), his character is too exaggerated, which equals unconvincing. Besides, Geoffrey Rush and Guy Pearce draw much attention to themselves. Their characters are far from being crystal clear – sometimes hiding their true intentions – which makes them more fun to watch. Once again, there’s too much artificiality and visual exaggeration to make it at least a little bit universal. We can’t relate or identify. We detach ourselves, and take it more as an image of the royal family rather than a story of a human weakness and family drama, which it would like to be. I don’t know about you, but watching it once seems perfectly enough for me. I don’t need to come back to this movie.
Long days, pleasant nights,