The King’s Speech

For some reason it has taken me a long time to get around to reviewing this movie. Some movies send me out of the theater and directly to my keyboard while others are more stubborn.

And now I’m in a weird position, as the discussion about The King’s Speech has evolved from “heart-warming little movie you should try to catch” to “Oscar-bait Brit-flick that’s going to steal the gold from The Social Network.” It’s become a real war online among the geeks who get perturbed by the Oscar race.

I don’t count myself as one of those geeks. I do get into the horse race aspect of the Oscars, and I’ll certainly root for my favorites to win, but I’m long past getting upset when something safe and obvious wins over something daring and exciting. I think Dances With Wolves defeating Goodfellas pretty much killed the Oscars in my mind as any true barometer of great cinema.

Since then, only a couple of Best Picture winners have been at or near the very top of my personal lists — Schindler’s List and No Country For Old Men.

So even though I liked The Social Network more than The King’s Speech, I’m hardly losing sleep over the latter’s rapid ascent to front-runner status. I loved them both. And my vote would go to Toy Story 3, anyway.

That said, all the ugliness over the award season has tainted The King’s Speech a bit in my mind. I have visions of Harvey Weinstein back from the dead and steering another Academy-friendly costume drama into the winner’s circle, and that’s never a pretty picture. It’s a shame that this debate has tarnished an excellent film in some small way.

I doubt I’ll be revisiting The King’s Speech much five or ten years from now. My recent look back at my top ten lists from the past decade suggests that this is exactly the sort of movie that will fade in my estimation over time.

But right now, the thought that keeps returning to me about this film is that one of the most intimate moments I saw onscreen all year was between two crabby Brits facing each other across a microphone.

And that kind of sums up what works so well in The King’s Speech — the powerful relationship formed between a king and his speech therapist, two men from completely different worlds who agree to treat each other as equals. The scenes between Geoffrey Rush (as Lionel Logue) and Colin Firth (as King George VI) are splendidly written, acted and directed, as the King’s initial skepticism gives way to begrudging respect and eventually blooms into a lasting friendship.

I believe that friendship, and not all of the soul-stirring “beating the odds” feel-good movie stuff, is what has made The King’s Speech resonate so much with audiences and Oscar voters. How rare it is to see a film about two men learning to value and love each other.

It’s interesting that the film about a man who built a network of 500 million friends is likely to be beaten out by the film about a man whose life is saved by just one.

6 thoughts on “The King’s Speech

  1. Alex says:

    Nice kicker to your review. I totally agree.

  2. peg says:

    It is a great kicker; and having just read it out loud to Dad he agrees and adds “the kid has talent” Anyway, it’s my favorite movie of the year and you’ve stated expertly exactly why it is.

  3. Amy says:

    Interesting and appropriate, probably. The fact that the King allows himself to be vulnerable to another, while the social network king stubbornly does not, is one of the reasons why the former film generates more good will and feelings of warmth than the latter. While a fan or critic might appreciate The Social Network more for Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant script (which WILL win) or Fincher’s excellent direction (which likely will win, as well), it’s difficult to feel a stronger sense of attachment to a film about alienation and betrayal over one about friendship and loyalty.

    Of course, my vote might still go to The Fighter, a wonderful film that manages to touch on every one of those notes. That said, I adored The King’s Speech and love how you perfectly observe that the film may have captured one of the most intimate moments on screen this year.

  4. Amy says:

    We just came from seeing the film a second time, this time with the children. On the way out, I mentioned to the kids that this film is in a “horse race” with The Social Network, another film we recently viewed for a second time with them.

    Maddie, my 15 year old daughter, didn’t miss a beat as she said, “The King’s Speech should definitely win.” When I asked her why, she said that The Social Network is the kind of film that people will reach for years from now to watch and enjoy as pure entertainment, while this film is “an artistic achievement:” which might otherwise be overlooked in the future.

    I thought that was a fascinating prism through which to consider the dilemma you had presented here. Maybe the film that is less likely to be revisited in the future on pure “entertainment” grounds is more deserving somehow, or at least needs the distinction more, than the “popcorn” film that earns both criticial raves and audience dollars.

    I mean, nobody was more outraged than I was when Ghandi beat E.T., but did that Spielberg classic really need the Oscar in order for me to be sharing it with my own children decades later? Of course not.

    So… there you have it. I will now root for The King’s Speech to win, precisely because it is the kind of small film that might otherwise fade from one’s memory. And my second viewing found that it held up beautifully, at least as well as The Social Network did on viewing #2. 🙂

  5. Clay says:

    I have issues with that argument on two grounds.

    First, The King’s Speech will have made more money at the box office than The Social Network by the time the Oscars arrive. So it’s not like you’re comparing a little-seen indie to a box office smash.

    In fact, The Social Network will be behind at least half of the nominees in terms of box office. If you were arguing that Winter’s Bone or 127 Hours could use the Oscar in order to have staying power, I’m right there with you. But The King’s Speech has done it on its own.

    And second, I don’t see The Social Network as a popcorn film. I find it to be a far greater “artistic achievement” than The King’s Speech on almost every level.

    Again, I’d argue that The King’s Speech is more of a crowd-pleaser, in that it has a traditional feel-good ending, characters you root for, warm humor and all that good stuff. The Social Network is about unlikable people doing unlikable things. It’s not your typical Friday night entertainment.

    For those reasons, I’d make the exact opposite of the argument you’re making. The Social Network deserves the win because it is unlike most Oscar winners in the past, and more about the world we live in today.

    But I’d still vote for Toy Story 3. 🙂

  6. Amy says:

    I don’t disagree with you on the point that The Social Network is a very different film than typical Academy fare, but I do think that it has received far more fanfare from critics and Oscar “handicappers” regarding how it should (or will?) win. In that way it has been the front runner.

    As for artistic achievement, they both qualify. Yes, they are very different films, but both are stunning. I’d be happy if either won (or if Toy Story 3 sneaked in and took the trophy!)

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