Dir: Tom Hooper
This none more British story of our World War II era king George VI (Colin Firth) being given elocution lessons by a maverick Australian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) in order to overcome his crippling stammer so that he can make the most important speech of his life, has been a big hit at festivals including Toronto and London and is now being tipped for Oscars (one for Firth is likely assured). I skipped the LFF press show in order to go and see a weird Russian film instead, and I'm glad I did, because while The King's Speech is not a bad film by any means, it is also not a terribly remarkable one.
It's fine. The performances are fine, the screenplay is fine, the direction is fine, but it's never really much more than that, and the overall feeling is of something very safe, very familiar and ultimately more like Sunday evening TV than something that cries out to be in a cinema.
Colin Firth is very good as 'Bertie', more officially known, at least by the end of the film, as King George VI. He's very good at putting across the stammer as something natural; debilitating, but never overplayed, he's clearly done a lot of research and work on the voice, and it pays off. The problem is that this is a performance that works very much on the surface. In both Genova and A Single Man Firth gave performances in which much was apparent but never stated; a whole emotional story bubbling away beneath the surface, creating a full and rounded character. Here we don 't really get that with any of the characters, the script tends to be more about the events and any emotional revelations are spoken rather than suggested. It's not bad, but there's the sense that Firth can deliver a lot more than what is asked of him here.
This is equally true of the rest of the film. The excellent cast is rather under challenged by a script that feels very rote and familiar and offers most of them little to do. Helena Bonham Carter, for instance, is good as Firth’s wife (who later became the Queen Mother and lived to be 101, which makes it very likely that we’ll see Bonham Carter reprise this role in the future) but she doesn’t have much to do after the first twenty minutes other than be encouraging and give the occasional funny line. Among the rest of the supporting cast there is both good; Michael Gambon as Bertie’s father, Guy Pearce as Edward VII, whose abdication places Bertie on the throne and bad; Timothy Spall’s hamtastic Winston Churchill.
Geoffrey Rush, a consummate actor, is as good as ever as Lionel Logue, and his work never feels remotely actorly, he’s probably the most rounded character too, thanks to the fact that we get to see him with his wife (Jennifer Ehle, good in a thankless role) and kids and that we get a glimpse of his failed ambitions as an actor (Rush is especially good playing Lionel as a bad actor).
Tom Hooper’s direction isn’t bad, and the period detail is authentic, but there’s nothing especially cinematic going on here. Visually it’s all, like the writing, just a bit straightforward. On the whole, there’s not much worth shouting about in The King’s Speech for me it was neither particularly bad, it’s a solid effort from all concerned, entertaining enough to pass its running time, but unlikely to trouble either my thoughts or my dvd player in the future. It’s a nice film, more for my parents than for me. When Colin Firth wins his Oscar in a few weeks it won’t be a travesty, but it will be a shame, because good as he is this is far from his best work.