Jan 25, 2011

The King's Speech

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The King's Speech isn't the worst of the recent films to receive a gluttony of Academy Award nominations, but it is quite likely the most boring. There are films that win Oscars and there are films that are made with the intent to win Oscars, and sometimes those two overlap, but for the time being (nominees were just announced this morning) Tom Hooper's film is most definitely in the latter category. As dolled up and self-consciously serious as to count as something of an epitome of the glamour-hungry Weinstein Company's distinctive output, this dramatization of Prince Albert's (later King George VI's) journey to overcoming his speech impediment would like to think of itself as a moving, soulful character study, but such are the clothes of the naked emperor. In actuality, this high-minded exercise -- pretty looking and paper-thin -- utilizes the same template as any number of crowd-pleasing biopics, but whereas a film like Walk the Line embraces the simplifying nature of historical caricature (and Hollywood-typical manipulation), The King's Speech foolishly tries to pass off connect-the-dots psychology as profundity and sitcom mechanics as high art.

It speaks to the strength of Colin Firth's lead performance, then (as well as his shared chemistry with Geoffrey Rush, who portrays the speech expert who tries to cure the King), that the film almost gets away with it. Alas, personality has been washed from the cloth of The King's Speech with a heavy starch, and save for a few humorous sequences concerning Bertie's (as his family and friends refer to him) diction lessons, the effect is not unlike being straightjacketed for tea. A scantly-used Rorschach device typifies the wasted potential here; instead of a legitimate psychological inquiry, we're given a lavish movie of the week with lip service, and for every idiosyncrasy there are a half dozen lame concessions to sutured, unimaginative screenwriting -- it isn't long before the film feels thoroughly "safe" and insignificant. Emotional heft is traded in for tidy resolutions and pat history lessons (Hitler, the ultimate challenge of his kingship, is presented as a daunting Great Speaker and then promptly forgotten), and they all lived happily ever after. Ultimately worth watching for Firth, who finds nuance amidst what might otherwise be cartoon slickness, Helena Bonham Carter, who puts on a great fashion show as Bertie's wife, the Duchess of York, and Rush for his particular refusal to devolve into complete two-dimensionality, but only just. The pleasures are minimal, but at least the pain is, too.

Directed by: Tom Hooper Screenplay by: David Seidler Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi, Eve Best and Michael Gambon 2010, Rated R, 118 minutes


  1. (Forgive me.) That's what she said.

  2. Anonymous2:55 PM

    I totally agree. Very boring and completely superficial. But hardly anyone else out there seems to agree.

  3. Anonymous9:37 PM

    Yawn? I sat on the edge of my seat trying to take in as much as I could. It deeply touched my heart.

  4. Anonymous11:21 PM

    Hitler is the "penultimate obstacle to overcome?" What was the ultimate? His speech problem? Are you saying the movie makes it appear that overcoming his stammer was more important than overcoming Hitler or are you simply misusing the word penultimate?

    Wonderful film, but yes it could have been better.

  5. @2:55 - I think the "yawn" you're referring to wasn't meant towards the film, but my review. Anyhow, I'm glad you enjoyed the film.

    @9:37 - That would have been a misuse on my part, now corrected. Thank you much -- it's rare that I learn something from an anonymous comment. Critics appreciate criticism, believe it or not.

  6. Anonymous10:02 AM

    You may have thought the film could have been better, but really, just TWO stars? Out of how many? Methinks there's a bit of arrogance in that rating, a desire to make a "statement" - to go against the mainstream. Your last sentence seem to contradict the two-star rating - and undermines your credibility.

  7. Anonymous10:57 AM

    And you rate Burlesque and Tron Legacy as Fresh Tomatoes - Boy are you kinky!

  8. @8:42 - Two out of four, which I thought was quite apparent from the graphic. As for my final sentence, I thought that it addressed the film's blah, middle-of-the-road nature. A zero star rating would seem more of the statement you think I was trying to make.

    @10:02 - You have no idea.

  9. I'm sorry to say it but I absolutely agree with this review, that was one of the most two dimensional, painfully boring, completely draining, sadly obvious movies of the year. Seriously how the hell is this so well recieved... I'm almost as shocked as I was with last years Hurt Locker catasthrophy. Firth's performance was just safe. Rush's performance was simply tame and the the only real spark in my eyes was Carter as the eventual queen (a part she has practically been playing all her life).

    What a yawn-fest. Coupled with the equally bad 127 Hours this was a truely rubbish weekend for me

  10. Anonymous9:02 AM

    What tripe. Your review that is, not the film which clearly went way over your head. Oh well, your loss.

  11. Anonymous7:06 PM


  12. @7:06 - Actually, as of my posting, there were eight other "rotten" reviews. Your comment amused me enough to merit publishing; usually I embargo all-caps BS.

  13. Anonymous8:58 AM

    I'm really sorry there were no loud explosions, flashy cgi and 'high octane action' for you remain entertained.

    You review reminds me of the kind of sanctimonious twaddle that Sheldon Cooper of TBBT spouts out - just to prove he's a superior being.

    No, I'm afraid your review is deeply flawed and highlights your misanthropic tendencies. Either that or you dislike running with the pack - you know, you are one of the Kool Kids, right?

  14. Ah, anonymous, we meet again.

    That you immediately go to the summer action movie bin of cliches for what you think I'd consider an edifying (or entertaining) movie is indicative of the deep flaws in your thinking, if one could in fact call it that.

    Had you done legitimate (which is to say any) investigation before opening your mouth, you'd see my taste includes plenty of movies commonly thought of as "boring" just as much as I enjoy a good summer action movie, but no, the fact that my favorite movie is 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY notwithstanding, I must simply dislike anything without "loud explosions, flashy CGI and 'high octane action'." Except that the relatively inert WENDY AND LUCY was my favorite movie of 2008, and IRON MAN 2 was a piece of shit, so there goes your little theory.

    My thoughts about the consensus? Don't really care, and I too always disliked the "Kool Kids" who were counterculture for its own sake, just as much as those who refused to color outside the proverbial lines. I'm happy with the path of my taste without any need to distinguish myself unnaturally (I don't doubt that some people take to crafting superficial opinions just for attention, but to assume such on the basis of any minority opinions is asinine), and I'd have disliked THE KING'S SPEECH all the same without its overwhelming popularity.

    If I'm misanthropic (I don't think so), it's largely thanks to people like yourself. Get a clue, and maybe next time you speak there might be something of worth in your words.

  15. Anonymous9:53 PM

    This is a yawner except for Rush (therapist ). Colin Firth didn't smile once that I can recall.

  16. Anonymous9:11 AM

    The review is spot on! The film is so thin that it's a miracle it can bear all the hype that has been piled on it. The acting is good, though I personally found Rush somewhat irritating. In short: Bad film. Intelligent review.

  17. Love your review. I just wrote my own review, and was starting to wonder if I was the only person not to be bowled over by the gloss on this story.

    My review, if you're interested:

  18. It is a film that keeps your interest if you are aware of history. King George the VI and his Queen Elizabeth were beloved to the British people because of their humanism during WWII. They were people who did "mix somewhat" with the commoners. Future generations do not lower themselves to that level. Knowing some of the history of that time engages one more to the film. My husband had no knowledge of the history of that time period with British royalty and was bored. I don't believe that it was meant to be "entertaining" although there were those moments. Personally, I enjoyed it.

  19. Thank you for finally having something intelligent to say about this film! To me, it's a tired re-hashing of Mary Poppins or any of the hundreds of other "wacky governess/teacher deals with stubborn/spoilt children/student and eventually wins them over with their charm and wisdom" films. Are you fucking serious??? At least Mary Poppins had the magic carpet bag and some catchy musical numbers. This film, its accolades, and the stuttering spineless minions who consider themselves film critics collectively form a caustic affront to the evolution of artistry in cinema. It was astonishingly and rabidly uninteresting.

  20. Anonymous12:59 AM

    Each to their own, but ask me, someone who walks into a viewing all ready to hate a film. I was rivetted throughout. Impecable performances thoughout. And those of you who think this film was just about some priveledged guy battling with his speech, completely missed the point. This was a film about a mans stamina, persistence, perseverance, mettle and most of all, friendship. Moreover, those who hated it, go see The Social Network, then you'll be bored and pee'd off with a film that is so self conscious and up its own rectum so far, it spews out manic pressures speech just cacked in its own fecal pretence!

  21. I have tried to understand why you dislike this film so much, but your review gives me no real clue to what vexes you to the extent that it is worth only 2 stars. I just watched it, I am easily bored and fall asleep very easily watching the usual run of Hollywood drivel, but found myself glued to the seat and was able to watch every minute with rapt attention. Who cares if it does not get even one Oscar it is in a completely different class of film making and acting performances to the Jeff Bridges effort last year (cant remember the title - but a quite forgettable movie, Hurt Locker (how did that get in) Billion Dollar Baby and Halle Berry's undeserved Oscar for overacting - Oh dear the list is endless - but Slumdog was good. I wonder if you liked that? I am probably as hard to please as you are but more selective. And it only cost $13million
    to make - Wow!! 5 stars worth.

  22. @Anonymous 12:59: My, that was special.

    @BuziosBertie: I didn't "dislike this film so much"; 2 stars out of 4 is middle-of-the-road, roughly C+ material. It's technically well made, but thematically I found it lightweight and frivolous. I'm not repeating my review here. The bar of what constitutes boredom does not transfer equally from viewer to viewer....and you were apparently snoozed by The Hurt Locker? Oy!

  23. Anonymous6:09 PM

    Thank you for the courtesy of a most civil, even kindly response, but my hackles are still slightly raised for your curmudgeonly commentary on a truly marvelous movie. Monday is movie day for me and I have snoozed my way through Salt, The Informant and Social Network, the latter being the most execrable waste of time by far. Of course we are all entitled to our opinions and the right to voice them but I wonder what elements, apart from the truly superb lightness of touch and occasional frivolity,irked you so much? Could it be, I wonder, that as you are not ( I assume) British or Australian, you may have missed out on the softly nuanced dialogue and asides that had me roaring with laughter and applauding the well crafted script, quite a tour de force. I did note a special nod or two for prospective American audiences - the use of Privacy (with an american Y sound) rather than privacy (as in privet) which is the only correct form in polite society in the UK.
    No, I didn't, couldn't snooze through Hurt Locker
    because I had been prepped, probably by your review or a similar one, saying do not miss this movie. I sat there expectantly all the way through what seemed at times like an old documentary of war torn
    middle east, waiting for the excitement which never came. Oy! Buzios Bertie

  24. OK, the plot is a cliché. (Linking it to Mary Poppins and other master-vs-pupils stories as one reader put it is both amusing and pertinent.) But both the masterful acting by the entire cast and the fine crafted depiction of its historical period redeem this weakness.

    And, yes, your review -- and some of your insolent rebuttals to critical readers -- betrays petulance, immaturity, insincerity and pretension in attempting to stand out against the mainstream.

  25. @Aldo (Raine?): That redemption is your opinion, and a fair one. I don't know your viewing habits, but my feeling is that I've seen essentially this same movie far too many times before -- and done far better, many times before -- to feel much for it this time around. I also neglected to mention the (imo, horrendous mis-)use of Beethoven's 7th during the climax. 2 stars doesn't make it a bad movie (just not very good), but that choice (more than any) put me in a bad way, and I already felt unable to get behind all that had come before.

    Thank you for the psychology exam. I think you take my general lack of seriousness over comments (most of which are ad hominem, vulgar, or simply not constructive; plenty don't get published for these reasons*) for insolence. Have you ever dealt with the random opinions of the (mostly anonymous, largely hateful) internet masses? Call it a defense mechanism, but I think most of it is silly, and I treat it as such. There are rare, reasonable exceptions, but for the most part it doesn't matter how you state your opinion, only what your opinion is: that's what people latch onto, and I've long since stopped caring about it as a whole. At least fans of THE KING'S SPEECH are some 1,000x more civil than Nolan-nerds.

    I'd like to keep comments open for good on this site, as the occasional intelligent contribution (or genuinely helpful criticism; see above) make them worthwhile more often than not.

    *You're welcome.

  26. Fine. Considering your civil if qualified "Touché!", I will concede it is a messy job to insult or degrade so many artists and creative works and having to deal with equal reactions afterwards.

    By the way, being insult a valid resource in your trade, perhaps your review should have pointed out that one reason "Speech" does not earn a better reception in the U.S. is the endemic and solipsistic ignorance of the American people regarding geography and history. Specifically, the tragic (if well earned) Götterdammerung of the British empire in the last century, plus the enduring if precarious role of royalty in British ethos.

    No hard feelings,
    Aldo (no, not Raine, only an accidental reader.)

  27. @Aldo: Raine was me attempting a funny, but I should have thought that you probably get that on occasion, and no, it's not really funny.

    Don't get me started on the ignorance of the American people (generally speaking; the ignorant ones seem to be more easily motivated, so that doesn't help, either). That I've had to grow up in the midst of what is essentially a culture allowing itself (and in some cases actively attempting) to go down the toilet, should by all means have me even more cynical than I can be day to day.

    (And honestly, as much as I'd like to occasionally dip into more cultural commentary of the sort you suggest, that's a much, much trickier line to walk and would probably invite disproportionate amounts of scorn.)

  28. I'm British and I totally agree with this review. Stilted, slow and predictable, this film is lacking in insight and soul.

  29. Anonymous5:52 AM

    I, too, found the film predictable. But then again, I studied the abdication crisis and George VI in history many years ago, so unsurprisingly I found this historical movie to be predictable. Incredibly I knew from the start how it would end. I need to remember not to watch any more historical movies.

  30. The glaring inconsistency that ruins the film for me is this: The film portrays Logue (successfully) using a therapy technique wherein he records Albert's reading of a Shakespeare passage while he (Albert) listens to music over headphones. This supposedly masked Albert's voice and allowed him to complete the passage without mistake or hesitation. This seems perfectly plausible and has some credence in human physiology; however, is there any evidence that this technique was actually used in the way it was depicted? If so, then please explain why this technique was not also employed for the salient speech around which the film pivots. Given the (depicted) privacy of the speech's setting, it could have been easily accomplished and would have virtually guaranteed a flawless reading of the speech, thereby eliminating all the drama (hyped to a fare-thee-well in my opinion) that accompanied the scene, i.e., the “last mile walk” and execution chamber visual analogy. But I guess there wouldn't have been much of a movie then, eh? If there is no evidence of the technique actually being used with Albert, then the screenwriter should be ashamed of himself for having introduced, then left unresolved this tantalizing prospect.

  31. @Anonymous 8:13: Predictable in *what* happens and predictable in *how* the story is structured are not necessarily the same things. And you, being so versed, surely knew when it deviated, yes? http://www.slate.com/id/2282194/

  32. A blue-blood Karate kid.

    Formula. Formula. Formula..(with good acting)

    And it will win....sad, but not too....Oh well..

  33. Anonymous11:13 PM

    What a bunch of snobs. I don't go to many Hollowood films these days. They're much too slick for me, but "The King's Speech" was one of the best I've seen in a long time. Sentimental without being cloying, and a great historical story. I'm a guy and I've never cried much before in a film but I shed a lot of tears on this one. I lived in England for about 10 years many years ago and have a half English daughter so maybe that's the reason this film touched me so deeply. The music was brilliant, especially the slow movement from Beethoven's 7th symphony.The Acting was out of sight.

  34. Oh dear, having worked my long way through this entire page, I'm now left totally undecided on whether to go and see this film, or not. Does this help? I sat through "The Last Emperor" after all its Oscars, enjoyed its cinematography but have never ever wished to sit through it again. Likewise "The English Patient". I'm easily bored by "earnest" and "worthy". On the other hand I loved "Shine".

    So what is this? "The Last Emperor", or "Shine"?

  35. Anonymous12:21 PM

    @ Tiddk,

    77,000+ people gave it an average rating of 4.4/5 and almost 95% of them liked it.

    12 nominations and 4 Oscars. Still not worth watching?

    @ Author,

    I thought critics needed objectivity, I cannot see any objectivity in your review especially when you gave it a 2/4 rating. I mean you implied that the movie is too thin and not worthy of being thought of as a high caliber movie. The acting was almost flawless (cant possibly have a fully flawless acting), directing was very well done and complemented the plot of the story. the story it self is a good story and can be brought up amazingly (as it did) or can be ruined (full of some hollywood boring gibberish). the music, the speech it self. Immediately after seeing it and seeing the social network I told my wife that these two will compete for many oscars, especially "best movie" and "best actor"

    I think that a movie is combination of everything put into it and how it all came to be in the end, and in the end, the King's Speech was amazing. I can understand a 3/4, but 2/4? I cant stop wondering if you just have something against the british or like some people said " going against the stream for your own agenda "

    I believe some things are debatable and some things aren't, the Sun is bright, no one can say otherwise. Someone in your position and your responsibilities should draw a straight line between choosing how loud to cheer or booing.

    "bigdeer32: Arguing on the internet is like winning the special Olympics... even if you win, you are still retarded."

  36. @Anonymous 12:21 PM: Remember the walk and talk scene were Bertie flips out at Lionel and stomps off? Like so many scenes of mounting/breaking character tension (recently, see also "She's Out of My League"), it felt unnatural and dramatically shoehorned for the sake of advancing the plot. I don't care where the movie is made: That's Hollywood boring gibberish.

    Some flaws in your thinking: (1) True objectivity is impossible, and pretending so would be a lie. Honesty about taste is compensation, and I generally don't like Oscar fluff, which this is. (2) The Social Network didn't have a chance at Best Actor, if that's what you meant by it "competing." (3) A 3/4 would indicate a good movie. A 2/4 is an okay movie. Be happy it got that much out of me, as The King's Speech's high-fallutin' pandering nearly bored me to tears. (4) Do the American, Japanese, French and German films I've disliked mean I dislike those people and countries, too?

  37. I wouldn't even give two stars. This is the laziest, most over-rated movie of the millennium, so far. Hands down, the sloppiest, most saccharine piece of cinematic pseudo-profundity I have ever had the displeasure of watching. " I have a VOICE!!!" Duh.

  38. snowy6:18 AM

    I agree with the reviewer, and I'm English, I've studied History, I have no axe to grind, and I did expect to enjoy this film, but was disappointed. I'm regularly moved by films but found it sentimental, and the script arch. And much as I admire Timothy Spall, when Churchill turned round and I realised it was Spall playing him as a cartoon, I burst out laughing. Yes, 2 out of 4 was right - it was ok but I'd just expected more. I didn't expect backslapping at the end of the film because the King has done frightfully well and never mind that rude chap in Germany.
    All those who disagree are more than welcome to their opinions, so why are you denying us ours? We're not just making this up to annoy you.

  39. Roger Williams8:25 PM

    Since you're accepting corrections of your word usage, I'll point out that you probably meant "glut" rather than "gluttony" in your first sentence.

  40. I went into this movie expecting to feel very much as you did. I saw it extremely early in its release (I live in LA and was lucky enough to find it on the first go-around, long before anyone was talking about it). I was expecting a period piece and not much else. Been there, done that, etc. I'm not usually one for a bland period piece.

    I was amazed, however, to discover that I loved it. It pulled me in and never let go. I was truly invested in these characters. It was so much deeper than I would have imagined, and it saddens me that you don't seem to agree. However, personal tastes differ greatly. There are many "classic" movies I loath, and many other people pan that I like. It's all subjective, and you expressed your views well, even if we ultimately couldn't disagree more on our conclusions.

    It was fascinating for me to see a story about WWII that I didn't know. I knew much of the history going in, the whole abdication of the throne, etc., but I didn't know anything about the stammer. Watching it play out on screen felt authentic, and it did move me. When I walked out of theater, I told my friend (who was actually the reason I went to see it in the first place) that Colin Firth was going to get the Oscar. I am not usually right about these things, but I have never before felt an actor was so deserving of the accolades he received.

  41. Anonymous8:33 PM

    ...and 'scantily' for non-existent 'scantly'. You must be a tad disappointed that RT's chosen headline is a sentence of yours with a lexical error in it. Also, can you provide more information about this underused Rorschach device? Lest we conclude that this is an underused device in your own review.

  42. @Anon 8:33: Sad that for all the rancor and silliness this review caused, no one, until now, pointed out that error. Lexicon upgraded, for which I'm grateful; the headline was of my own choosing, so disappointed I'm not.

    The Rorschach device is the wallpaper seen during the therapy sessions, and about the only interesting visual element of the entire film to these eyes. I'd practically forgotten about it until your comment popped up for moderation.