Better than the Real Thing: The King’s Speech

This is the movie that won the Best Picture Oscar over The Social Network? Really? The King’s Speech is merely an okay film. It’s not especially memorable, thrilling, or inspiring, and in fact, it’s actually rather limp and lifeless. To be honest, I had high expectations for it, not on the basis of its Best Picture award but because of the trailer.

The trailer is fantastic, and I have my slight suspiscions that members of the Academy, possibly not having enough time to view all of the 10 Best Picture nominees, may have turned to their trailers to make an accurate judgment (although that would still beg the question why The Social Network, or Inception, didn’t win).

The trailer is able to give a sense of urgency to the film – the King must overcome his stammer to inspire his people during a time of war – but the film drains this deadline of any consequences. If the King stammers during his important speech…oh well. And when he does manage to get through it without any trouble, rather than a sense of accomplishment, the King just looks relieved. It’s not exactly inspiring stuff.

Another issue I had with the movie is that everytime Colin Firth stammers through a speech the scene cuts away, undercutting the embarassment and awkwardness of the situation. It happens about three times in the movie, where we get a scene with Colin Firth stammering through the first sentence of a speech, looking at the hushed faces of the audience with beads of sweat appearing around his crown (forehead, but you see what I did there?) and then the scene cuts away to the King looking sad and forlorn. I really wish Darren Aronofsky directed one of these scenes. Then we would get a full five-minute stammering speech sequence where we would squirm and shift with embarassment alongside the characters in the film. Take off the kid gloves, I say.

The trailer also has the advantage of telling the entire story in two minutes – fast-tracking all that character development stuff and the (un)necessary historical subplots that outline how Colin Firth becomes King (hint: It has to do with Guy Pearce’s character wanting to marry a thrice-divorced American and having to relinquish his claim to the throne to do so – yes, you won’t care either). I know, it has to be there otherwise historians will complain that the film isn’t historically accurate. A nice black title card like this would’ve sufficed rather than thirty minutes of screentime:

“Colin Firth becomes King after his brother abdicates the throne. And now, back to our regular speech therapy montage programming.”

Okay, Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth are fantastic in the film. The acting is excellent, but the story drags and lacks the emotional heft that the trailer suggests. Admittedly, after seeing the trailer I was moved. The scene where Colin Firth screams “I have a voice!” and Geoffrey Rush quietly replies “Yes, you do,” is a sequence only an unfeeling robot wouldn’t be affected by. But praising a rather bland historical period piece for its excellent acting is like commending a captain’s leadership on a sinking ship. It’s nice, but ultimately unhelpful.

One quick question: does anyone remember the Best Picture winner of 1998? Oh, Shakespeare in Love? Yep, another bland historical period piece that was the subject of too much pomp and circumstance during awards season. Now its legacy is that can be found at the bottom of Wal-Mart bargain DVD bins. The King’s Speech will be joining you soon.

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