I almost want to stop watching any more movies and just relish this rare moment of having seen two perfect films back to back (the first being BLACK SWAN and now THE KING’s SPEECH). Its nice to see Hollywood finally bounce back from a lackluster year and finish the year out with a strong winter slate of films. THE KING’S SPEECH is a formidable contender for Best Picture and unlike the past number of Best Picture winners, should THE KING’S SPEECH be awarded the golden statute, it will be well deserved. A win will also mark a nice comeback for the Weinstein Brothers and their struggling independent studio, The Weinstein Company. However, even if THE KING’S SPEECH loses Best Picture (which if it does, it will probably go to THE SOCIAL NETWORK), there is no doubt that Colin Firth will nab the Oscar for Best Actor. Regardless of what or whether or not it even will win anything, THE KING’S SPEECH is a remarkable, captivating, and highly entertaining movie that evokes the best of the late Merchant/Ivory productions (A ROOM WITH A VIEW, HOWARD’S END, and THE REMAINS OF THE DAY). Although an exhausting number of films have been set in World War II, the filmmakers have managed to tell a touching and inspirational story that, quite frankly, I’m fucking shocked that it has taken this long for someone to make a film about it.

This historical drama is about King George VI (Colin Firth), Queen Elizabeth’s dad and the son of King George V (Michael Gambon). As the younger of two brothers, George VI was not the next in line to succeed to the throne. That honor was to go to his older brother, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), who later became known as the Duke of Windsor. For a public figure like George VI, it was particularly unfortunate that he suffered from a severe case of stammering. So debilitating was his stammering that any interaction outside his immediate family resulted in an agonizing exercise in patience as George attempted to get his words out. With the help of his supportive wife, Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), George VI tried every conceivable method to cure his stammering, but to no avail. Upon someone’s recommendation, Elizabeth decided to try out Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a struggling actor/speech therapist, whose unconventional methods involved a combination of psychotherapy and acting exercises. Impressed as she is with the doctor, Elizabeth still has the task of convincing George VI, who has given up trying to fix his stammer. Reluctantly, however, George VI decides to give the doctor a try and see what happens. What results is an unlikely lifelong friendship and an eventual curing of the king’s speech.

Colin Firth has been around for awhile, but its only been in the last two years that anyone has really given a shit and taken real notice of the actor. With last year’s A SINGLE MAN and now THE KING’S SPEECH, Firth has channeled some before unseen talent and is now poised to become one of Hollywood’s top leading men. In the past, Firth has been mainly relegated to playing romantic leading men in light fluffy comedies (BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY, LOVE ACTUALLY, and MAMMA MIA!). Not a bad actor by any means, but also not noteworthy. What I found so remarkable about Firth’s performance in THE KING’S SPEECH was how convincing he was in effecting a stammer. You’re not watching an actor simply imitate a variation of Porky Pig. In the presence of people, Firth’s entire composure gives way to timidity and eventually anger and frustration for being unable to overcome his fears. You can physically see this and the king overcoming his disability by film’s end consequently provides an emotionally elating experience. Adding to the character’s complexity is the fact that the king was not an altogether likeable person. He was an elitist who was cold and distant to most people and who was given to explosive temper tantrums. George VI’s relationship with his therapist was mostly marked by a master-servant relationship in which the king made the therapist aware of the hierarchical nature of their relationship. However, many of these traits the king possessed stemmed from his dysfunctional relationship with his father and brother, neither of whom provided a supportive environment for the king. George VI’s father was a hot-headed, impatient taskmaster who didn’t (or couldn’t) adequately deal with his son’s disability. The king’s brother, the Duke of Windsor, was a philandering womanizer who was given to bullying his brother by ridiculing his stammering. As intimidated as he was of his father and brother, the king also recognized the need for the country to have a strong leader in the wake of his father’s death and England’s entry into World War II. Firth masterfully balances these opposing facets of his character’s personality while also portraying George’s care and affection for his family and developing friendship with his therapist. This is one of the most multi-layered and complex characters I have seen this year and Colin Firth handles the job with great finesse.

What a treat it is to have not one, but two actors performing at their peak performance in the same movie. Geoffrey Rush, who is no stranger to being a total badass, plays King George VI’s therapist. Although Rush plays a slight variation of his past characters, he does it so well and injects enough variety to distinguish himself, you don’t mind watching Rush retread the same path. Lionel Logue’s confidence and positive outlook stands in sharp contrast to his pupil’s lack of self confidence and besides the king’s wife and daughters, Logue seems to be the only other person who really cares to see the king succeed in overcoming his stammer (and that’s not simply because he’s getting paid to treat the king). Logue is sort of like Mary Poppins in the sense that he comes into a dour situation and makes things all perfect again. He serves as the reassuring emotional anchor in the picture, which helps to make the audience want to see the therapist succeed in helping the king and for the two of them to forge a lasting friendship. As he’s done in many of his films, Rush adds a healthy dose of humor to THE KING’S SPEECH. His unconventional practices of treating the king and his insistence on treating the king as an equal provide for humorous moments as does the therapist’s hilariously sharp wit.

As little as is known of the director, Tom Hooper, the same can be said of his cinematographer, Danny Cohen. This duo seems to have come out of nowhere and fashion together one of the most beautiful looking films of 2010. Cohen and Hooper beautifully utilize the screen space to compose pause-worthy frames. Through the use of composition, a desaturated color palette, and lighting that employs strong contrasts between light and dark, the film paints a picture of cold and foreboding grimness that appropriately reflects England’s moment of crisis in the face of impending war, the abdication of the Duke of Windsor from the throne, and the ascension of his stammering brother toward whom no one seemed to have any confidence in. Hooper and Cohen craft this film with a sure and disciplined hand that makes it all the more wondrous that such no-names could have made something like this.

THE KING’S SPEECH may not contain the excitement of a modern psychological thriller like BLACK SWAN does or the relatable drama in THE SOCIAL NETWORK and this film may even turn some off with its British genteelism. However, you can’t ask for more compelling conflicts than what you will find here and its sharp and acerbic humor is worth the price of admission alone. This isn’t Merchant/Ivory if that’s what you suspect this movie is. This movie is not about a bunch of Brits who break the sexual mores of Victorian society in subtle ways that pale in comparison to the shit we see in modern society. THE KING’S SPEECH is more relatable. Its inspirational in every way that it is dramatic and funny. This is a film not to be missed and its one you will surely hear more about as Oscar season draws nearer.

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