In a year that has featured several outstanding candidates for the Best Actor Academy Award, such as 127 Hours'
James Franco and Blue Valentine's Ryan Gosling,
no performance shines brighter than that of Colin Firth's in The King's Speech,
based upon the current Queen of England's father and his friendship with maverick Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue.
Films about British royalty are not exactly a cinematic rarity, each year seemingly bringing at least one to the forefront and, quite often, into the awards race. Yet, seldom has there been a film that has so vividly and with heartfelt authenticity depicted the true humanity of the royalty in such a way that honors both their royal blood and their vulnerability.
What's so remarkable about The King's Speech
is how utterly unremarkable the film is and how low key director Tom Hooper manages to maintain the film despite the potentially dramatic story arc and the often larger than life Geoffrey Rush as a key player.
For those of you who appreciate period films, The King's Speech
is the best of the year and the film lands comfortably in this critic's Top 10 of 2010, a film that is simultaneously proficient technically, historically accurate, stunningly well acted and more emotionally resonant than nearly any British period piece of the last decade.
Prince Albert, the Duke of York (Firth), has no intention of ascending to the throne with his more self-assured and eloquent brother Edward (Guy Pearce) first in line should their father, King George V (Michael Gambon), pass away. While Albert, known within his family circle as "Bertie," is a respected military man he is far from eloquent and possesses a stutter that renders him for all practical purposes verbally paralyzed in front of an audience. The Prince's wife (Helena Bonham Carter), ever loving and supportive, tires of going through "official" channels to obtain help for her husband and tracks down Lionel Logue (Rush), a mostly low-level thespian who has opened a speech therapy practice and who professes extreme confidence in his ability to cure the man whom he at first does not realize may be the future King.
The ascendancy, of course, eventually occurs but the Prince's comfortable life in the background is thrown a curve when his brother, the new King, abdicates the throne in favor of his relationship with American socialite Wallis Simpson (Eve Best). At what may be the most important moment in England's history on the cusp of World War II, the Prince will become King George VI.
All of this may sound very "formal" and structured, but it is quite astounding the richness of humanity and heart that is enfolded into The King's Speech
by Hooper and, perhaps even moreso, by screenwriter David Seidler, who also penned the underrated Tucker: The Man and his Dream.
So many films about British royalty focus on the opulence, the majesty and the seemingly otherworldliness of the lives of British royalty, while Hooper and Seidler have decidedly turned down the opulence more than a couple notches and humanized British royalty in a way not seen in recent memory.
There are most definitely more dramatic performances in 2010 that worked quite nicely, most notably that of James Franco in Danny Boyle's 127 Hours.
Yet, quite simply, there hasn't been a better performance than that by Firth, who has spent the last few years serving up magnificent performance after magnificent performance with wide acclaim but no golden statuette. Virtually any other actor would have been unable to achieve the miraculously intertwining blend of high honor and humility necessary for this performance to become a truly winning, convincing performance. Somehow, Firth manages to embody the fullness of the future King, a devoted family man and naval officer who respected the importance of the throne so much that he didn't want to ascend to it - not out of any sense of insecurity, but because he truly felt that such an ascendancy could hurt the British empire. Watching Firth struggle with his elocution, it is impossible to not completely ache for this man who wants so desperately to be the man that his nation needs him to be.
Again, stated very clearly, Colin Firth should win the Best Actor statuette going away.
While Geoffrey Rush may not be a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor, his surprisingly low-key and disciplined performance as Logue will most assuredly be recognized with a nomination. Rush just the right amount of Logue's theatricality to make his confidence and unorthodox methods believable, but where Rush really excels is in selling just how much Logue actually cares about this man long before he discovers the real identity of this man named "Bertie." Rush's performance may be a touch too low-key to win the Academy's favor, but those familiar with Rush's cinema history will simply marvel at the character he pulls off here.
Equally understated yet no less impressive is the performance of Helena Bonham Carter, who seems to have been resigned lately to larger than life, cartoonish characters to such a degree that we'd all likely forgotten what an incredible actress she can really be. Here, Bonham Carter is more subdued than she has been on screen in years and she turns in a performance that is quite stunning in its warmth and tenderness.
Hooper has cast even the supporting players to near perfection, with Guy Pearce excelling as the lovestruck Edward, Timothy Spall delighting as Winston Churchill and Michael Gambon an appropriate mix of reverence and intimidation as King George V.
The King's Speech
is quite ludicrously rated "R" for only one scene in which the future King therapeutically screams out the F-word multiple times after Logue figures out that he's able to scream such obscenities without stammering. It's a perfectly appropriate scene, and there's nothing else within the film that gives justification to its R-rating or the MPAA's continued irrelevance when it comes to accurately assessing a film's moral compass.
If only for the thrill of watching two brilliant actors at work, The King's Speech
is the holiday season's must see film, a near perfect blend of technical expertise, acting prowess, awesome writing and a director with a clear vision and the ability to bring that vision to life. If there's any justice in Hollywood, Colin Firth's next speech will be accepting an Oscar.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic