Tom Hooper | 113 mins | Blu-ray | 12 / R
Britain seems to be having a grand time of it at the Oscars of late — following Slumdog Millionaire’s triumph two years ago, the last ceremony saw this scoop all the major gongs (and that’s not to mention the other films that have gained isolated noms and wins in the past couple of years). Considering, as someone said recently, there’s no such thing as a “British film industry”, that’s not bad. But award wins mean diddly-squat in the long run — look at the number of classic films and acclaimed directors who’ve never won — so is The King’s Speech actually worth it?
The core of the film, the screenplay, is excellent — dramatic, funny, truthful. It won Best Original Screenplay… but surely it was an adapted screenplay? It’s so grounded in real events, based (at least in part, or so I thought) on the real man’s diaries and the book that was in turn based on them. When the Adapted Screenplay nominations include films loosely inspired by short films and semi-spin-offs from TV series that don’t even feature many of the same characters, never mind actually adapting their source for the big screen, surely something like this is definitely adapted? Who knows… or, frankly, cares — it’s still good, that’s what matters. And if the authors of the book missed out on an on-screen credit, at least they’ve had plenty of tie-in promotion (including a featurette on the Blu-ray).
Hooper’s direction is fine, good even, but it’s no Social Network. Fincher was robbed there. At least he’s in good company. Hooper’s one of those directors (who seem to have emerged recently) who sometimes frame their actors small with a lot of empty wall around and above them. I don’t like this one bit. Stop it. Otherwise, I don’t think he has a distinct style (and that awful type of shot certainly isn’t distinctly his anyway). I’m not saying it needs to be obviously, batteringly A [Director]’s Film to deserve best direction — indeed, one can go so far down that route that it definitely doesn’t deserve the award — but Hooper’s work doesn’t hold a candle to Fincher’s refined style.
The headline win, though, was Colin Firth for Best Actor. I think it’s fair to say there was an element of It’s About Time about him taking it, but unlike, say, Scorsese’s win for The Departed, this wasn’t just a lifetime achievement award dressed up as a real one — Firth equally earnt it with this performance alone. Taking on the part of a stammerer is always a tricky job, and does play into the Academy’s fondness for actors playing at being disabled or impaired, but Firth presents a much more convincing stammerer than you usually see (I have this on good authority from someone who knows several stammerers). It’s not just the Oscar bait element he nails though, as he also brings truth and gravitas to the rest of the role. It’s a complex part — he’s a man who has the throne unexpectedly thrust upon him, at a transitional time for the monarchy, as the nation is launched into one of its most difficult periods.
While Firth garnered all the praise, co-lead (not just Supporting Actor) Geoffrey Rush has been a little more overlooked. It’s a subtle turn but it’s the relationship between the two men that really makes the film. It’s easy to see how such an unshowy part was missed in some quarters during awards season, but Rush is wonderful. Rounding out the leads, Helena Bonham Carter seems to be returning to the heritage roles of her early career, but the more alternative path she’s carved since then lends an edge to the forthright but supportive spouse. It’s interesting to keep in mind the image we have of the Queen Mother from the modern era when looking at her as a younger woman.
But the quality casting doesn’t end there: in support are an array of cameo-sized roles from some exceptional actors, many of them leads in their own right normally. Most notable are Michael Gambon as the old-fashioned, but loving, King George V; Guy Pearce as the youthful, playboy-ish David / King Edward VIII; Timothy Spall doing a decent Churchill impersonation, which sparks one nice moment just before the titular speech; plus Outnumbered’s Ramona Marquez, pretty much stealing every scene she’s in (as usual) as the young Princess Margaret.
I don’t usually comment on my viewing medium — I include it at the top because it can affect all sorts of things, but I don’t feel especially qualified to review the quality of a Blu-ray or cinema or much else — but, occasionally, there’s something worth noticing. The UK BD of The King’s Speech is one of those: instead of running at film-speed 24fps in 1080p, like most movie BDs, this is 1080i/25fps — to put it another way, it has PAL speed-up (how much difference there is between “p” and “i” is debatable). This is naturally disappointing and begs the question “why?”, though when actually viewing the movie the audio doesn’t sound off (but then I’ve never thought it does when watching UK DVDs, so if you’re attuned to that kind of thing maybe it is) and it still represents a definitely HD image.
But I also felt I should mention it before commenting on the film’s visuals, in case it’s affected the visual style. I was going to comment on its slightly unusual look, for instance, which often represents strong pastel colours (when its not succumbing to the ubiquitous teal-and-orange), at the same time presenting a kind of desaturated, often cold feel. It looks odd, and to be honest I’m struggling to place my finger on what exactly is odd about it, but it’s slightly off-normal, slightly stylised, and I quite like it… but considering Momentum seem to have ballsed up the transfer to at least some degree, I’m not sure how much the oddness is a choice of Hooper and DoP Danny Cohen and how much a dodgy transfer/compression. Screen-grabs of the US release (which is at least 1080p, but not wholly praised in other areas, it seems) don’t help much. But as I said, I’m no real expert on Blu-ray quality, so don’t take my word as gospel by any means.
Let’s try not to get too distracted by such oddities, though. Even if directorially and cinematographically The King’s Speech isn’t the triumph a film lover might like their Oscar winners to be, it’s more than made up for by an exceptional screenplay and an array of highest-quality performances. It’s impossible to say how any film will be remembered in the future, but it seems to me this one is a solidly deserving winner.