Once a year (more often if you count such events as the Golden Globes, which nobody does), all of past year’s movies are wrangled up, dumped into a ring, and told to fight. The winners of the brawl advance to the round of Ten, and one of those Ten is picked out of a top hat by the ghost of Charlie Chaplin. This pick wins the Academy Award for Best Picture, a title which can be displayed proudly on DVD covers for as long as DVDs continue to exist.
This year’s pick for Best Picture was The King’s Speech, a historical drama about King George VI’s regal stutter and friendship with his peasant voice coach. It also won a Best Director Award for a Mr. Tom Hooper and a Best Male Actor award for Colin Firth, who played the beleaguered king. Egregiously, the Academy neglected to ask me for my opinion on the film before they made these announcements public.
So WAS The King’s Speech really the best movie of the year, you ask Jesse Reviews the World? Well, TKS certainly supports some of the year’s finest performances. Colin Firth has received the most attention for his portrayal of the emotionally guarded, tongue-tied king, but I would argue that Geoffrey Rush steals every scene he’s in. Rush plays Lionel Logue, a self-confident amateur speech therapist who urges the monarch to swear and insists on calling him “Bertie.” It’s a brilliantly balanced performance; Rush’s wit is quick and his tongue is sharp, but Rush also exudes empathy and vulnerability so that Logue, who in lesser hands could have felt like a plot device, becomes a fascinating character. Helena Bonham Carter makes a poised and intimidating Queen of England, but for the most part, the movie is a two-man show between Firth and Rush.
This is fine, because the relationship between the King and Logue is by far the most interesting aspect of the movie. It’s a couple struggling with very unusual power dynamics – king and subject, doctor and patient, rich and poor – and their friendship feels all the more authentic because of these clashes. Of course, the relationship progresses along a fairly traditional movie route (VAGUE SPOILERS ABOUND): antagonist relationship becomes uneasy alliance becomes friendship becomes Fourth Act Fight becomes reconciled BFFs.
Indeed, there really aren’t very many surprises to be found anywhere in the plotting. To be honest, The King’s Speech felt in many ways like a Sports Movie like Remember the Titans. There’s a clear, tangible obstacle (winning football/speaking without stuttering), a charismatic coach (Denzel Washington/Geoffrey Rush), a progression towards greatness (running drills/speaking Hamlet), social commentary along the way (desegregation was hard/Hitler was nuts), and a final SPOILER redemptive climax (State Championship game/making it through a big speech without totally biffing it).
The predictable storyline doesn’t smart too badly since all the elements involved in its telling are so strong. Still, the movie feels too safe, and only Firth’s strong performance maintains any sense of suspense. To most of us, I would guess, George VI’s stuttering problems were an unfamiliar story, but we can predict the steps along the way because we know This Type of Movie.
So should it be Best Picture? Well, at the risk of sounding overly Clintonian, it depends what you definition of “Best” is. Should we reward movies that take risks, not only in the subject manner but in the method of story-telling? Or should we reward movies that use the traditional movie-maker’s palette to effectively tug on the emotions? What do we prize more greatly, craft or innovation?
As you’ve probably guessed, I find the whole idea of a Best Picture pretty dumb, but I’d rather see an award given on the merit of innovation, to movies that make us see the potential of movies in a new way. The King’s Speech won’t be winning many of those imaginary awards. Still, it’s still a solidly-crafted, wonderfully-acted period piece that keeps its characters believable and grounded. At the end, I found myself wishing that it would go on longer, which is not something I usually feel while watching historical dramas. And never something I feel when I watch the Oscars.