My apologies for dropping the ball on this countdown. For a couple of weeks I've been just barely holding back the flu and early last week it finally hit, hit with a vengeance, and put me in bed all week -- something that hasn't happened since the early nineties. Thanks to our awesome contributors and their awesome contributions (and Assoc. Editor Alex Marlow), the Big Hollywood plates kept spinning, but the effort required to write anything but quickie posts, much less a proper review, just wasn't there. My thanks to everyone who chipped in while I was away, and without further ado...
"The King's Speech
Of course we all know by now that this was the big winner Oscar night; Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay -- and deservedly so. What we have here is the perfect "Academy movie," a look at one man overcoming a handicap -- in this case a merciless stutter -- which is always prime Oscar bait, especially when it's pulled off as well as "The King's Speech."
Based on real-life events, what really makes the story sing is the relationship between King George VI (a terrific Colin Firth) and commoner Lionel Logue (a splendid Geoffrey Rush), his unorthodox speech therapist. This is essentially a love story between two men who meet under extraordinary circumstances and through a number of ups and downs both in their own personal lives and between each other, grow a real and lasting friendship.
The stakes are high, as well. After his hard partying, Charlie Sheen-ish brother is forced to step down, Firth is unsure of himself when it comes to assuming the throne of England. With Hitler spreading his reign of terror across Europe, Britain needs a king who can help to rally and inspire its people against seemingly impossible odds. But the stutter makes speaking nearly impossible and is only a symptom, not the real problem. And so if this oddball and somewhat eccentric speech therapist is going to cure his patient's speech impediment, it will require, in part, turning the King into A King
, building the confidence and self-esteem of an insecure man unaware of his own potential.
The production looks great, the supporting cast - especially the lovely and always interesting Helena Bonham Carter -- is uniformly superb, and there's a specific and somewhat personal moment I couldn't get out of my head for days that has little to do with the film itself. On television, I've seen documentary footage of Hitler's concentration camps and on the big screen I've seen recreations of this horror in films such as "Schindler's List," but I've never seen actual documentary footage on the big screen before and it hits with a wallop.
My pal Ned Rice might disagree
, but a theme I very much liked was the respect paid to the tradition of the British monarchy. Logue is portrayed as one of us, a commoner not very impressed with his country's symbolic royalty and unwilling to defer or accept the role of a lesser being in the presence of his king. An eloquently handled and quite moving part of the story involves Logue's character arc, how he watches a man grow into someone worthy of his respect and affection -- not the title, but the man holding the title. This is a moment that quietly and effectively speaks volumes about both men, their friendship, and the British peoples' sometimes complicated relationship to the throne.
Other than my top pick, I didn't see -- in the truest sense of what it means -- a single Best Picture-worthy film all year, including this one. But to see the Academy award a story that honors tradition, the idea that good and honorable men are the best bearers of that tradition (the hedonistic brother is portrayed as a disastrous king), and most importantly, a thematically driven film that effectively makes a case for American-style democracy -- is a good thing.
For better or worse, because it now holds forever the title of Best Picture, "The King's Speech" will live on for as long as there's a civilization, and because it forcefully defends and makes a case for that civilization, we should be grateful for that.