Living in a present in which most political leaders’ messages go vastly ignored by a cynical public, it’s hard to imagine an era in which a leader’s effectiveness actually hinged on his speaking ability. The King’s Speech, directed by Tom Hooper, takes us back to an uncertain time with inner turmoil among England’s Royal family while political distress with some of history’s most despicable leaders brewed elsewhere. Certainly a unique take on the genre by focusing on a single character’s strive to overcome a specific flaw in a particular span of their life rather than serving as a chronology of their complete life, which most films that depict the Royal family tend to do. This is perhaps one of the reasons as to why this film found such a wide audience, given that whether or not you’re fascinated by England’s Royals, chances are you will find a reason a reason to watch this film.
When England’s throne is suddenly thrust upon him, amidst royal family scandal and impending world war, King George VI (Colin Firth, Oscar® winner, Best Actor) must overcome a lifelong, debilitating speech impediment to lead his nation. After his iron-willed, compassionate wife Elizabeth (Oscar® nominee Helena Bonham Carter) secretly enlists an eccentric speech therapist (Oscar® winner Geoffrey Rush), the two men forge an unlikely friendship that will ultimately empower the monarch to find his voice, inspire his people and rally the world. Based on an inspiring true story, The King’s Speech has been universally hailed as “a masterpiece. The majestic cast is overwhelming” (The New York Observer).
As host to a vast cadre of actors, the film offers prolific performances that blend naturally to each other much to the appraise of the talented actors and actresses. In honesty, this was the primary focus for me throughout the movie as I lack any interest in the Royal family and don’t often watch movies of this particular genre. I’m not previously very familiar with Colin Firth so the main attraction here was Geoffrey Rush, but they both impressed me equally. Rush continues to amaze with the diversity in his range of character acting, especially given that the few previous roles of his that I’m familiar with are incredibly different from his role as Mr. Logue in this movie. Firth, playing Prince Albert/King George VI, does a magnificent job at creating a believable stammer interrupting his vocals. According to historical comparisons, his stammer was actually exaggerated compared to King George VI’s real stammer, but I suspect this was done to give more impact to the movie. Despite the exaggeration, Firth manages to keep it at a point in which you can easily sympathize with his verbal hindrance and the emotional strain that would come with it, and it never reaches a point that seems over the top as some actors might have ended up doing.
Of course, these performances might not have been nearly as worthwhile if it hadn’t been for the strong supporting cast, even though most of them have very few scenes throughout the movie with the exception of Helena Bonham Carter as Duchess of York/Queen Elizabeth. Her talent lends itself well to Firth’s, ultimately resulting in a pair of performances that feel natural to each other and come off believable that they are a loving couple. Although, admittedly, Carter’s presence kept me anticipating Johnny Depp to show up at any moment, or for her to offer a meat pie to one of Mr. Logue’s sons. The three other thespians that I feel are very noteworthy in the movie are Guy Pearce, playing short-tenured King Edward VII, Jennifer Ehle as Mr. Logue’s wife, and Michael Gambon as King George V. The trio have short scenes, and a brief presence in the overall movie, but each makes their screentime worthwhile in every appearance no matter how brief it is; you’ll walk away remembering each one and that is a remarkable feat.
Unfortunately, the movie does have downsides which is pretty much anything else outside of the acting talent. The visuals of the sets constantly give a monotone and bland atmosphere, which may have been a decent metaphor for the depressing era in which the movie takes place, but it simply felt like it needed more. As it is, the only interesting thing to actually watch is the actors’ faces. In a lot of ways that isn’t so much a terrible thing, but given the period it could have been an opportunity for some unique visuals. Another issue I had with the film is that it simply doesn’t really feel like “Bertie,” as Mr. Logue refers to him, overcomes his problem to a significant point. Granted, there is noticeable and sometimes subtle improvement over the course of the film but ultimately there is little about the final speech that feels all that different from his troubles in the beginning. Obviously history details that there was, in fact, improvement but the movie just doesn’t seem to detail it very well. Considering we have to sit through a montage or two of Mr. Logue instructing various exercises they ultimately feel as nothing more than filler, especially when you consider that the most successful scene was their very first encounter but that method is never repeated in the movie.
Overall, the acting is absolutely the one reason to see this movie. The rest not so much, given that it’s apparently not very accurate in depicting a proper history, but it still works. The flaws I have with the movie are majorly opinion based rather than actual errors and others seem to not have a problem with the atmosphere or the eventual outcome. It’s definitely up to the individual viewer, but personally despite my few disliked aspects I would still be willing to see this movie again. Recommended!
Anchor Bay pushes out their Oscar winning film on Blu-ray in a standard single-disc Elite Blu-ray case. It’s a fairly mundane looking package, with no slipcover or extra frills about it. Still, it’s a nice disc with the three stars front and center on the cover…which is surprisingly quite a bit drab too, to be honest. But hey, it works I guess.
Modern production wrapped up in an AVC encoded 1080p transfer…do you really expect anything other than perfect? Well, you’ll have to for The King’s Speech because it doesn’t really overwhelm you. Perhaps it’s by design, but the image is a bit overly soft at times and everything is so toned out in blues that it almost makes the picture seem overly pale when it comes to the skin tones. In any case it’s certainly not a bad image, but it’s not really something that will blow you away. It’s really hard to fault this transfer on much of anything other than that though and the audio, a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, is spectacular as well. Like the video transfer it certainly won’t blow you away, but it is a great bit of audio candy to feast your ears on regardless.
• Commentary by Director Tom Hooper
• The King’s Speech: An Inspirational Story of an unlikely Friendship
• Q&A With the Director & the Cast
• Speeches From the Real King George VI
• The Real Lionel Logue
• The Stuttering Foundation – Public Service Announcement
Once you get past the commentary there is less than an hour of other material to check out; while the featurettes are definitely worth checking out there really just isn’t much material here. The original King George VI speeches were a great thing to include, however; I loved hearing the pre-war speech from September of 1939. Overall it’s a nice set of extras with the commentary leading front and center as it really shows off the dedication that went into this film. I’ll admit I was a bit bitter at it sweeping the last portion of the Oscar’s, but after watching the film it’s easy to see why it did. Definitely a Highly Recommended disc if this is a film you feel like you’ll watch again and again.
The King’s Speech is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Movie review by Andrew
Blu-ray review by Zach Demeter