(Royal with brain freeze.)
Starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush and Guy Pearce. Directed by Tom Hooper. 111 minutes. PG
Back in high school, when Juliet told us that her “only love was sprung from his only hate,” I said, “Shakespearean bitches be crazy.” Little did I know a few years later I’d be living out that very statement at the movies. Except the loathsome lovah in question wouldn’t be related to my father’s mortal nemesis but rather, one of my own.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t absolutely despise historical dramas. In my generally open mind, they’re incredibly dull, drawn out and attentive to minute details – even when the story that inspired it is obviously intellectually engaging. Just because they’re based on real life doesn’t give them life. Or so I’d say to whatever former close friend or family member who dragged me to see the latest long-winded on-screen representation of my Grade 10 history book.
So naturally when I bought a ticket for critical darling and TIFF ’10 favourite (it scored the People’s Choice Award) The King’s Speech, I was expecting yet another over-hyped based-on-not-so-ancient-events flick I can’t even pretend to cheer for. What I got was a freakishly fascinating, funny and, dare I say it, lovely film.
A lot of said glowing mini-review may have to do with Colin Firth, who pretty much embodies those words in every role (yes, even St. Trinian’s). Having delivered a wholly heartbreaking performance in the most underrated movie of last year, A Single Man, you’d think he could only regress. But the doubly designated Mr. Darcy tops himself here, playing King George VI, who we find out here suffered from a serious speech impediment before and after taking over the throne in WWII-era Britain, with both genuine helplessness and grace. He doesn’t just make you feel sorry for the self-conscious leader. He makes you feel every stutter and stumble. To use a civilian (and 90s childish) pun, he just plain-out rules.
Firth’s co-stars, Helena Bonham Carter and Captain Barbosa, er Geoffrey Rush (playing the queen mum and George’s speech therapist, respectively) are also excellent. As is the surprisingly lively (and unpolitical!) script, both classy and crass, providing fodder for heavy-hearted history buffs and sailor-mouthed cynics alike.
One minute we get to see dear old Queen Elizabeth (alongside a mini Margaret), imagined as a young girl with passion for whimsy and toy horsies and Winston Churchill, get played by a rat – or rather, a man who seems to play them a hell of a lot (Timothy Spall). The next we get our knit socks knocked off and into a profanity-laden free-for-all that could well be ripped from a Tarantino movie. It was that particular scene, which demonstrates one of Rush’s character’s many unorthodox teaching methods, that showed this history hater that maybe Romeo’s star-crossed mistress wasn’t so off after all.
The King’s Speech may be dressed up like my least favourite genre but in truth, it’s just irresistible underdog tale masquerading in medals and full tails. Behind the perfectly under-toned lighting, meticulous furnishing and big-expectations back story, lies a totally unpretentious story of an emotionally damaged man who simply wanted to be able to tell his country to stay strong in spite of an oncoming story. And to put it in one of the many terms King Firth uses in his one colourfully colloquial speech, it’s the tits. A-