I’ve seen The King’s Speech twice since it came out in theaters. The first time I really liked it, but my enthusiasm has quickly died down for the movie over the past few years. Part of that reason is that it won Best Picture over a stronger field of contenders. But really, there’s really nothing too special about The King’s Speech. It’s a good movie but doesn’t achieve the greatness that the awards handed to it indicate.
The King’s Speech is about Prince Albert (Colin Firth), the second son of King George V (Michael Gambon). At the 1925 British Empire Exhibition, Albert gives a speech where he stumbles upon his own words really, really badly (when I saw this in theaters the sound was off sync with the picture, which made Albert sound even worse). He is embarrassed and humiliated by his failure at the podium and seeks multiple therapists to help him. Albert eventually comes across Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Austalian who believes he could cure Albert.
Much of the movie is made up of Logue’s attempts to cure Albert. Logue tries doing so by making him do muscle relaxation stretches, practice breath control techniques, and, in the film’s most infamous scene, tell him to shout all the swear words he knows (which I suspect was done for the movie to secure an R rating).
Meanwhile, Albert faces problems at the throne. The movie spans to World War II, and a lot changes for the British Throne. Once his father dies, his brother Edward becomes king but leaves the throne when he decides to marry an American. As Albert rises to the throne he grows worried about how he can be king with his horrible speaking skills.
One thing I noticed of The King’s Speech is how conventional it was. It feels like it could have come out fifty years ago. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but shows that the movie lacks much ambition. The King’s Speech isn’t too different from an every day historical biopic. It doesn’t really makes us examine or challenge its subject in a way, it’s just showing him trying to accomplish a goal throughout the years.
Compare that to Lawrence of Arabia, which gave its subject more life. Like Albert, Lawrence is trying to accomplish a goal but the movie is exciting, energetic, and beautiful. David Lean allows the audience to enter the scenery and understand the characters.
Which brings me to the greatest problem of The King’s Speech: director Tom Hooper. I remember reading a quote from a newspaper article that The King’s Speech looked like it was filmed out of a fish bowl, which I agree to. Many shots feel awkwardly placed, such as one where Albert is sitting on the side of a couch. Instead of centering on Albert, Hooper places him to the side of the shot with the couch at the center. This forces the viewer to turn their eyes to the side of the screen. Why? This is a completely unnecessary and distracting shot. The King’s Speech should be a fairly simple to direct. 95% of the movie takes place indoors. Yet Hooper cannot operate the camera properly throughout the movie, which hurts it.
But while there are flaws, there are also many strengths about The King’s Speech. If I had to say what the movie’s strongest element is, it’s Colin Firth. Firth does a strong job as Albert and gives a solid performance. Geoffrey Rush is good as well. And while the story, as I said before, lacks ambition, it actually isn’t that bad and has some wit put into it.
Still, The King’s Speech lacks the criteria to become a great film. In 2010, three films came out that were all much better, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, and Inception. The Oscars gave their top prize to The King’s Speech over these three, which is rather typical of the Academy. The King’s Speech is an audience pleaser, a feel-good old fashioned movie that the Oscar voters love. The Oscars probably thought it was more likable than The Social Network, more grown up than Toy Story 3, and more simple than Inception. But that doesn’t make it a deserving Oscar winner. I wouldn’t consider The King’s Speech win as bad as some of the Oscar’s biggest blunders like Dances with Wolves over GoodFellas, but it certainly isn’t very acceptable either.
So while I can recommend The King’s Speech, don’t expect it to be as good as the awards indicate. It’s enjoyable but not a great film.