February 16, 2011

The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010)

WHAT IT IS: The true story of King George VI of England, his uncharacteristic rise to the throne and his battle to control a lifelong speech impediment in the early days of radio.

HOW IT IS: The King’s Speech isn’t at all unexpected. From its solid but safe acting to its period elements, everything here screams Oscars. I was expecting to be pleasantly surprised because of the amount of press the movie was getting on the festival circuit.

Instead, the movie is a new incarnation of an old Hollywood formula, one that, it seems, still wins accolades and awards. The movie models past successes so well, some shots are lifted from the canon of past awards films. Watching The King’s Speech, I couldn’t stop thinking about the original The Karate Kid (John G. Avildsen, 1984): it’s in the interactions between King George and his speech therapist, in the quick montage of their work together, in the final scene and our hero’s triumph over adversity, even down to the final shot with a satisfied Geoffrey Rush nodding back at his pupil after he’s accomplished what he set out to do, a shot used so much at the end of every Karate Kid movie that it’s been called the Miyagi shot.

All the actors are phenomenal, of course, led by a humble Colin Firth, proving once again that he’s one of the best popular British actors. Tom Hooper’s direction is at times amateurish, deciding here to adhere to the bourgeois aesthetic (fixed cameras, wide shots), unlike his previous project, the amazing HBO miniseries John Adams, where the camera was free-flowing and mobile. His wide-angle shots inside vintage or recreated environments emphasize the beauty and majesty of the old Victorian architecture, England’s Gothic churches and lush royal palaces.

Apart from certain technical aspects of the film, I was underwhelmed by the whole experience. As time passes, I realize how much tradition and conservatism go into award films, traits they share with Hollywood blockbusters and American independent films, traits I find tedious and mind-numbing as my experience of films grows deeper.