Make no mistake, “The King’s Speech” is by all accounts a good film, anchored by two very good performances in Colin Firth’s Bertie and Geoffrey Rush’s Lionel Logue. Centered on Bertie’s coming to grips with his role in the war with Germany and overcoming a debilitating stammer with his instructor Lionel, the film is a quietly celebratory meditation on friendship in the face of adversity and finding one’s place in the world. But amidst the thematic triumphs and acting tour de forces, “The King’s Speech” falters because its quality stems more from its inoffensiveness and good natured morals and it never truly exhibits the “X” factor that makes some films great.
To be fair, the film’s story is indeed in contrast with the typical British period piece, in spite of having all the usual ingredients of such a film, including familial intrigue, political strife, an abundance of wealth and of course extravagant costumes and set pieces. Its focus on Bertie and his struggle with his stammer elevates that element above the pratfalls of many period pieces, and in fact, the journey that Bertie undergoes in coping with his speech impediment could be told in any time period. The backdrop of the British Empire simply contextualizes the material in a way that adds the necessary gravitas to the film.
Firth plays Bertie with subtlety, and in finding the stammer, never cripples the film’s pace by stealing the spotlight with over-the-top theatrics. Instead, he plays Bertie as frustrated and confused but also with a very tangible motivation to succeed.
His performance is matched equally by Rush’s Logue, who’s speech therapy with Bertie gives way to a friendship between the film that propels the rest of the film’s much more impersonal elements.
With all this, though, there is a realization that, frankly, there isn’t much to “The King’s Speech” beyond being a very touching film. It has a number of stories at play at once, its history proves to be interesting and indeed Bertie’s struggles act almost as a parable for an audience’s own personal obstacles necessary to overcome. But in spite of all this, the film simply fails to be much more than a “good” film by story’s end.
Bertie’s struggle and eventual success never resonate the way they should emotionally. Certainly the film is an intellectual feat, and dealing with so many different elements both personal and political is an effort worth commending. Beside this, though, the film’s emotional heft never clicks the way it should.
Logically one’s proud of Bertie’s achievement, and one can ascertain why the film is a good film. But the heart is never there, and one gets the feeling that the effort is not much more than a series of great performances in a middling, safe story.
“The King’s Speech” is good, no doubt, at times great, but its constant tendency towards playing it safe never allows it grow beyond being the merely good, inoffensive film it is.
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