“A good movie is three great scenes and no bad scenes,” Howard Hawks, master American filmmaker, once remarked.
By that yardstick, Tom Hooper's The King's Speech loosely works. A film I enjoyed watching long before the Academy went nuts to nominate it in a dozen categories, including Best Editing — the one department that has completely let this film wander off into a long-winded blabber-fest.
Yet, it is a charming old-fashioned talkie with a beautifully orchestrated finale — The King's Speech — as Geoffrey Rush plays the perfect conductor of a flawlessly nuanced performance by Colin Firth, who builds it up gradually and smoothly from ‘Stumped Nervous Silence' to ‘Slow Growing Confidence' to ‘Emphatic Display Of Passion.' Sublime timing.
It's an acting master-class from Firth that showcases the entire spectrum between silence and speech. Between insecurity and confidence. Between overcoming hiccups and finding his voice. Literally and metaphorically, of course, much to the excitement of the grey-sporting Academy members who enjoy a good old-fashioned English tale involving royalty. And there's the politically correct disability triumph for a bonus. No wonder it was a favourite and ultimately prevailed at the Oscars in the race for Best Picture, Director, Actor and Writing.
Scrape off all the hype and moments of histrionic brilliance and what you get is yet another underdog-beating-the-odds tale. This time around, a reluctant King, who has to take charge in the gravest of circumstances, history be damned. David Seidler, who won the Academy award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for this film, has taken huge cinematic liberties.
Historians argue that the actual speech therapy and cure happened a good ten years before the war and progress was reported in seven months after Lionel met The Duke of York, and that there were no huge cheering crowds outside Buckingham Palace. It is also argued that Churchill was not really a supporter of King George VI or in favour of abdication.
Even fictionally, at the end of their first meeting, the doctor makes the Duke read out Hamlet without a stutter using his unconventional means. So technically, there wasn't much of a conflict left after that and what's left is much ado about nothing.
It's a bed-time story, a pretentious legend about a King, who in reality, did not have a speech disability as exaggerated in the film nor were there any huge stakes involved with his speech. The lack of drama leaves a huge hole in the film's second act and so, the makers resort to all sorts of sports-movie clichés (including physical exercises) minus Bill Conti's motivational Rocky score.
The sub-plots involving sibling rivalry and the tension between the eccentric therapist and the unlikely patient are thrust in just to buy time and set the stage for the big speech, so much that I was bored out of my wits watching the film the second time around.
However, the film's finest moments belong to the scenes that manage to pack both Firth and Rush, who riff off each other with great flair and it's their chemistry that really make the film work.
Overall, The King's Speech is like bland bread sandwiched between two meaty scenes — a riveting first meeting and that titular speech finale. There are a few laughs thrown into the middle and the gag involving profanity as a release for frustration is just delightful, serving as the third great scene.
And that's all Howard Hawks asked for.
The King's Speech
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
Storyline: The King needs to deliver a speech to motivate and unite his people but first, he must find his voice.
Bottomline: Go watch it for Firth and Rush. Strictly once.