British Bromance Kicks Off Oscar Season

British Bromance Kicks Off Oscar Season

Colin Firth portrays King George VI in “The King’s Speech.”

David Beal, Staff Writer

The signature shot in The King’s Speech, repeated countless times, looks slightly downward at Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth) in a claustrophobic, offset framing with fisheye distortion. If it wasn’t already clear enough, the character is living in a fishbowl-world, drowned by the public eye.

The film begins when Albert, son of King George V (Michael Gambon), “royally” screws up a speech at the 1925 British Empire Exhibition in Wembley. His stuttering problem prevents him from getting through even the first sentence, and his disjointed syllables echo throughout the stadium.

Prodded by his wife (Helena Bonham Carter), Albert tries a few speech therapists. After some conflict, he settles on Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an understanding but unorthodox Australian who becomes Albert’s first real friend.

As Albert expresses in an incisive line, his royal relatives are more a “firm” than a family, so the fluctuations of this genuine friendship sit at the heart of The King’s Speech. The one-on-one scenes between Firth and Rush are the movie’s best segments. The relationship is frustrating and bittersweet; the writing is dynamic and focused. Language issues become magnified and they reveal character traits. Logue, for instance, wants to treat Albert equally by calling him “Bertie,” but Albert resists and only calls Logue “Doctor.”

The movie isn’t as successful when it moves outside of Logue’s office. Even its best moments are marred by unwarranted, awkward visual affectations, like the recurring fisheye shots of Firth. And unlike its closest film companion, The Queen, some of its themes and narrative threads develop too late in the story to fully crystallize. Where the filmmaking could be clear-eyed and direct, it becomes hesitant, roundabout, and oddly distant. It’s messy.

Firth, though, remains convincing. He embodies this historical figure as stubborn and willful, but also emotionally fragile. In other words: he’s an actor who wants his Oscar and might even deserve it.

The rest of the actors are dutiful. Even if it’s not their most exciting work, some of these people (Carter, Gambon, Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill) must be happy just to get a break from the Harry Potter franchise.

Naturally, Albert ends up becoming King George VI. His father dies, his older brother (Guy Pearce) abdicates, and he has to (gulp) say a few words while taking the throne.

But this isn’t the end of the story. In the true climactic scene, on the eve of World War II, Albert has to overcome his stammer while giving a radio address in a small dark room. He prepares his country for the biggest collective struggle of the 20th century by personally struggling in front of an odd-shaped little microphone. It’s a rousing sequence that both gives the film a sense of closure, and begins to open it up.