King's Speech, The (2010)

Director: Tom Hooper
Plot: The story of King George VI of Britain, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch become worthy of it.

Genre: Drama/History
Awards: Won 4 Oscars - best picture, director, lead actor, original screenplay. Nom. for 8 Oscars - sup. actor, sup. actress, cinematography, film editing, art direction, costume design, original score, sound mixing.
Runtime: 118min
Rating: PG for some language.

Tom Hooper, whose previous feature was The Damned United (2009) about Brian Clough’s short reign as coach of English football club Leeds United, now turns his attention to the British Royal Family, more specifically King George VI, who is played by Colin Firth in a great performance that would most certainly land him his first acting Oscar. Partnered by a supporting turn by Geoffrey Rush, whose role far exceeds the demands of a supporting character, Firth conveys his character’s feelings – mostly fear and frustration – with considerable ease and restrain.

The King’s Speech, titled after the film’s emotional final act, is a performance-driven period piece set in pre-WWII Britain, a time of uncertainty as Hitler started to rise to power. Firth’s character, Bertie (that’s his nickname), reluctantly takes over the throne after his father’s death and his elder brother’s decision to relinquish his power because of marital reasons. Bertie’s reluctance stems from his tendency to stammer embarrassingly even when speaking to a friend, let alone addressing a whole nation on the brink of war with the Nazis.

In comes Lionel (Rush), a self-proclaimed speech therapist who strikes up an endearing friendship with Bertie after initial animosity caused by conflicting views over the effectiveness of the former’s unconventional method of treatment. If there is such a thing called the buddy period drama, The King’s Speech confirms its existence. With gorgeous cinematography that is not too striking, and art direction that emphasizes on an understated elegance as opposed to an elaborate grandioseness, Hooper smartly allows the backdrop of the film to play a complementary role to his actors’ performances, rather than vice versa.

The frequent use of long, narrow corridors by Hooper metaphorically parallels Bertie’s “suffocation” – his struggle to cope with the responsibilities of being a king, who ideologically represents the voice of the common man, but sadly in this case, a king who is unable to find his own voice is as powerless as the very person whom he is speaking for. Lionel slowly helps him to correct his stammer and find faith in his voice, building up to a rousing climax that gives new meaning to the power of friendship to transcend all barriers, be it physical, class, or culture.

David Seidler deserves praise for writing an original screenplay that is so dramatically compelling that the lack of an antagonist is hardly noticeable, unless you collectively count Hitler (who is seen from afar in black-and-white news footage), Bertie’s stammer, and the microphone (a symbolic representation of Bertie’s faceless, implacable enemy) as “villains”. The King’s Speech is assured a spot in my Top Ten Films of 2010, and is every bit deserving of the twelve Oscar nominations that it is running for. Funny, heartwarming, and ultimately uplifting, I would not be surprised if this wins Best Picture.

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