Movies

10 Critical Thoughts About… The King’s Speech

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Highly specific observations on the Oscar-baiting royalty movie.

The King's Speech

The King's Speech revolves around King George VI's ascension to the throne. But before he's a monarch, he's Bertie (Colin Firth) — a shy family man with a speech impediment. When it becomes clear that, as a king in the radio age, he'll have to do a lot of public speaking, he employs the help of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an unconventional speech therapist with whom he slowly fosters a lasting friendship.  

1. Hope you don't like surprises.

I don't want to go all Anthony Lane on you, but I think I can say this without giving away the whole movie: if you expect something to happen in The King's Speech, it'll probably happen. You'll feel like a seer — that's how predictable this movie is. Of course, its plot is based on fact, so you should have some degree of certainty as to what happens. But apart from that, the movie hits all its cinematic formulas with mathematical precision. The sooner you accept it, the more you'll enjoy the experience.

The King's Speech 22. You're either bored by British monarchy, or you're not.

Recently, Anglophiles have had an array of regal entertainment to chose from, from The Tudors to The Queen. Ultimately, though, the trials and tribulations of a stuffy, foreign, and waning institution aren't for everybody. This movie will be as bland as British food if you're not a fan of royal costume dramas.

3. "Stop trying to be so bloody clever!"

A frustrated Bertie shouts this at Logue during one of their sessions, and I don't blame him. Yes, I've heard that the two had an affable friendship, and I'm sure that they were fairly intelligent and funny people. But too often, the movie turns their relationship into a comedy routine, all about trading witty barbs when they should be busy working on, you know, the King's speech.

4. That's Winston Churchill?

Timothy Spall? The guy who was, like, a magical rat in the Harry Potter movies? No. No, no, no. To make things worse, Spall doesn't really play Churchill but impersonates him, in an over-the-top manner that distracts viewers from the matters at hand.

5. Ignore all the Shakespeare references.

Conveniently, Logue happens to be a Shakespeare enthusiast. This allows the Australian to regularly pepper the movie with Shakespearean allusions, inviting us to read into them. Don't. He auditions for the titular role in Richard III, the history play in which a physically abnormal Richard feuds with his brother in order to become king. That's half-relevant, except that Richard was murderous. And even if Hamlet's most famous soliloquy hasn't turned into literary wallpaper to you yet, it's best not to waste time analyzing Bertie's recital of it.

6. There are children everywhere.

For a country that's decidedly not Catholic, England has a lot of stray children roaming its streets and halls. Who are all of these people? Are they orphans? Urchins? Porcelain dolls? Whatever they are, I don't trust them.

7. Even archbishops had to freelance!

With the advent of new media comes the advent of overworked creatives. When the Royal Court decides to release a newsreel that includes the King's coronation, the Archbishop of Canterbury hires himself as video editor. That's kind of like Pope Benedict offering to design your business card.

8. Class differences are hilarious.

Or so we're supposed to think. Logue is a middling immigrant from Australia, and Bertie, of course, is the King of England. So every now and then, the movie mines this hierarchical divide for some soft laughter. But there are poor- and hungry-looking children filling the streets (see #6) — stop laughing and start king-ing, Bertie!

9. Colin Firth should be in everything.

Seriously, this guy is something else. Every time I see this charming chap in a movie, I get mad at all other movies for not having Colin Firth in them. Even if he had just a minor role as, like, a British janitor or a British… person, he could instantly add buckets of charisma to any production.

10. Crowd-pleasing! Inspiring! Rousing! It left me speechless!

Movies like this one are the reason Alexander Graham Bell invented the Academy Awards so long ago. It's a costume drama set within the dusty House of Windsor and filmed in Britain, but if you didn't know better, you might think that the movie came straight out of a beaker in some Hollywood producer's lab. That's not necessarily a bad thing — movies don't become worse simply for aspiring to win awards and accolades, especially if they deserve them — but this movie downright expects them. And given the fact that it's the only non-animated movie that pleases both crowds and critics, there probably isn't anything standing between The King's Speech and an Oscar speech. (I need to take a shower.)