THE KING'S SPEECH: A Sight to Hear
By Nick Adams
The Oscar nominations were released last Monday and at least one drama set during World War II was nominated for Best Picture (and 11 other awards). Keeping in line with such shocking news, the Steelers made the NFL playoffs and I ate pizza this week. Yeah, yeah. WWII was arguably the grandest, uniting event in human history, so it’s about time they made a movie about it. In earnest, I went into the movie expecting Oscar-bait rammed down my profanity-laced throat but instead left the theater baffled. While not quite in the same game-changing, defiantly original, pantheon of history’s best cinema, “The King’s Speech” is solidly worthy of every aforementioned award nomination.
Some might note the film is not a WWII film, but merely a period piece, as it takes place during the 1930s—when America defiantly clasped hands over its collective ears while yelling, “lalalala!” America needed the Pearl Harbor attacks to be shaken out of immobilized apathy. Conversely, England stood on its own cliffs, apprehensively looking across the Channel to Europe. England, unlike America, lost nearly a generation of young men in WWI. This Lost Generation kept them back for so long, yet also fueled in inevitable decision to declare war preemptively. Germany had not yet attacked England and, for the most part, had no immediate plan to. But England saw things getting more out of hand and eventually goaded itself into taking the plunge. These years are decidedly about WWII and the film is decidedly about the man who needed to speak strength, knowledge and confidence.
The British history and British players (King George V, Prince Edward, King George VI, etc.) may intimidate American audiences, but we need no fear. At several points, the characters speak about what they all already know—not unlike “science” being explained in sci-fi films or maps being slowly panned over in journey films. Fortunately, these moments (such as reiterating the scandal of American-ite Wallis Simpson) are brisk and articulated with enough flavor to keep the film bounding along. As a side note, does anybody else ever get exceptionally excited when the Winston Churchill character shows up in any movie? Everything he said was worthy of the world’s best bumper stickers.
Anyway, such scandals among the royal court are vividly unlike any American counterpart. If a movie star is personally imperfect, we poke fun easily because if they go too far they’re out of a job. American celebrities are just capitalists, selling product like anyone else. When said product (themselves) is undesirable, they get forgotten. Forgive me for not thinking of an example. In “The King’s Speech,” though, the American audience is shown the predicament of having permanent celebrities—as, frankly, the royal family offers little more by this point. This is why having a boozing, lovelorn prince and a younger, inarticulate, prince left the population needlessly deflated.
So becoming articulate, more specifically overcoming public speaking, becomes the goal and a strangely admirable one. Here, audiences see the false dichotomy of ‘speaking well equates to a parlor trick’ and ‘not speaking well renders someone moronic.’ Both unspoken hypotheses are tested and found untrue. In the film, strong public speakers rile crowds and inspire confidence, unity and innovation. And so when the film pulls back the curtain of known history, the audience watches Prince Albert (Colin Firth) display courage more admirable than he asks of anybody else. (That is, if public speaking is actually more feared than death.)
More repeatedly in Prince Albert’s case, perpetually stammering leads people to incorrectly label him weak and indecisive. To my own glee, the life-long stammering required a knack for brevity—indeed, the soul of wit. Amazingly, the script itself seems to stutter. That is, inevitable conclusions (will he go back to Geoffrey Rush?!) lag at times, yet other revelations are brisk, or even blurted. As a whole, the movie trots along and impressively written by David Seilder—who has an incredible WWII experience, and a stammer, himself. The movie is largely light-hearted, nearing the buddy-comedy genre at times. Somewhat regrettably, Adolph Hitler is reduced to the minor role of a jerk from the rival school. That he speaks well overshadows what he was saying—something along the lines of, “so I’m going to take over the world, is that cool?”
Supreme acting all around but the grace and confidence of Helen Bonham Carter struck me as most surprising…well, until Guy Pierce showed up as Prince Edward VIII—causing nothing but good times. The directing is emotional and visceral, making good use of deep focuses and intimidating vs. intimate space.
On a small note—and probably my largest criticism—the climatic scene (again, great) had England finally going to war with Germany, yet the music (building to a crescendo) was Beethoven’s 7th symphony. Beethoven was German, so—obviously—this hypocrisy tanks the film. That the filmmakers would think so little of audiences or be so damned negligent is as infuriating as it is enraging…which is a lot. This wasn’t just the worst cinematic decision of the year; it borders on a crime against humanity. Damn. What an awful movie.
Still…probably the best film of 2011.