The King’s Speech II: Pleasing, if somewhat predictable, Oscar-bait

Written by  //  February 13, 2011  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  1 Comment

(Guest blogger Danish offers his take on the Awards hot favourite, the King’s Speech. For another take, read Anisha’s review of the same here. Editorially we felt that the movie was so good that another review wouldn’t hurt. )

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has for long been fascinated with the British Monarchy – an obsession made particularly notorious back when Judi Dench won the supporting actress nod for an 8 minute showing as Queen Elizabeth in “Shakespeare in Love“. Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth” got Oscar love – as did Cate Blanchett, both times she played the eponymous role. For portraying Queen Elizabeth II during the immediate aftermath of Princess Diana’s death, Helen Mirren won the statuette – even as “The Queen” racked up a fair few nominations. And these are just instances from the top of my head. And they relate only to monarchs named Elizabeth!

It comes as no big surprise then that “The King’s Speech”, a handsomely mounted period piece about yet another British monarch, starts the Oscar race as the frontrunner, with 12 nominations, ranging from the obscure technical categories (someone explain how sound mixing is judged, please?) round to the grandslam of movie-directing-acting honours. It has won a fair few awards in the pre-Oscar race too, and from what I figure, the best picture win is coming down to a photo finish between this and that-facebook-movie-we’re-tired-of-praising.

Point being, I went into this one with hugely heightened expectations. I really wanted to like this movie – and I did. Just, well, not as much as I wanted to. See, I wanted to come out of the experience gushing about it, with that transient state of headiness that undergo emerging from a defining movie experience. Instead, I came out simply, well, pleased. Content, even – which, mind you, would make most movies a towering achievement, but, well, that’s great expectations for you.

So here we have Colin Firth (absolutely, and expectedly, astonishing) playing the-then Duke of York, who in the opening sequence in 1925 sets out to address a crowd at Wembley. A tap of the microphone, a sharp intake of breath, he mutters the first few words, and then … nothing. His mouth seizes up, the words are lost somewhere in his throat. The crowd looks on derisively, almost piteously, as the son of the king is unable to even make a salutary speech in public.

The Duke has by his side a wonderfully supportive wife – Helena Bonham Carter in a remarkably uncharacteristic role plays the eventual Queen Mother – who leads him to a succession of speech therapists, all of whom are unable to help.

And then the couple comes across Lionel Logue. As essayed by Geoffrey Rush, and impressively rounding out a great trio of central performances, Logue is brash, unconventional, and quite possibly the Duke’s only hope. The stakes are raised when it looks like the Duke might just become the next King of England, and in the process be required to make some particularly impassioned speeches, even while down south in Germany, a short man with a toothbrush mustache is giving some very powerful speeches indeed. And so the stage is set for an inspirational, typically rousing, period drama,

Which honestly, is the only issue “The King’s Speech” has – that it’s predictable, that there’s a paint-by-numbers feel threatening to come out of the woodwork, that it’s got all the expected elements so firmly in place. It’s that unquantifiable difference between achieving cinematic greatness on the one hand, as opposed to manufacturing it. If this sounds like nitpicking, well, I suppose it very much is – and yet I have to point this out to you to explain why I fell short of unabashedly loving this seemingly perfect piece of film-making.

Because, yes, its almost, just about perfect otherwise. The cinematography is casually stunning – 1930′s London plays hide-and-seek with the mist, while long tracking shots waltz with, and around, the King. The climactic walk down the corridors of the BBC is a particularly masterful bit of filmmaking; Roger Ebert interestingly observes that the long tracking shots might be evoking the king’s constricted vocal passages as he tries to get his words out. The screenplay is often hilarious and alternately touching; the performances I will say nothing more about, but that those 3 Academy Award acting nominations are absolutely well deserved.

In the end, then, the speech that King George VI delivered was one of guiding the country, the empire, towards hope in the darkest of times. That it is as much about his own personal triumph in being able to make that speech at all is the real power of the story.

Come Oscar night – I will be cheering this one on for the Acting nominations. Firth and Rush are almost certain to win their categories; Bonham-Carter a little less so, but that’s primarily because of a little girl in “True Grit” who steals the show from under Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges collective noses. As for the big two? Nyet, and nope. The other directors on the list pretty much all leave a greater stamp into their work, and as for best movie – well. “True Grit” is more satisfying, “Black Swan” more intense, “Inception” more challenging, and that-facebook-movie-that-we’re-tired-of-praising was pretty darn great too.

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A Supreme Court/Delhi High Court lawyer who writes a bit with a potentially fatal weakness for hyperlinks, tags, and the reader's approval. Follow @alokpi

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One Comment on "The King’s Speech II: Pleasing, if somewhat predictable, Oscar-bait"

  1. soupy August 10, 2011 at 5:05 am ·

    Predictable? You do know that this is literally based on a TRUE story right? Like this actually happened like this! Sometimes real life is predictable, man. Even the Queen loved the movie so I doubt it’s highly fictionalized (it is HER father after all).

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