The King’s Speech

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 29, 2015

Acting! Well, they are really good. Firth and Rush form a superb tandem, and there’s no end of really able support. (Gambon!) But this entirely assembly is pretty powerfully calculated. And look—it worked! Best picture of the year, apparently. And we might as well admit that The King’s Speech is reasonably intelligent, and really well-crafted. We should enjoy it. But we can resent it just a little bit too.

Future famous film director François Truffaut’s dismissal of what he called the Tradition of Quality in French film (1954) was politically motivated and, to my mind, more than a little dubious. It must be that I am disposed to be suspicious of precocious people in their early 20s. But Truffaut’s salvo was also at least a little bit correct, now as then. In film, as elsewhere, stuffy and smug go together very well, and we don’t have to like it. I would also like to say that the film’s R-rating seems to be this year’s exception to the rule of being careful with your media intake. (For the Strength of Youth and all, but you need to see Schindler’s List…) Actually, the celebrated swearing scene seems fairly gratuitous to me, meaning that it’s just not necessary. Even worse, it thinks it’s so funny. (I guess that final, more than slightly silly expletive is pretty funny though.)

On the other hand, let’s be fair. King George VI is an important historical figure, and this is an important historical subject. There’s every reason to believe that it will not only inform audience members, but also whet their historical appetites. Nothing wrong with that! As the central story goes forward we also get little glimpse of other important things. Class and colonial hierarchy, for instance; that Australian stuff very effectively hints at the fact and nature of some longstanding presumptions, and then starts to look a little bit like the writing on the wall.

Most significantly, there is a second story going on here. The terrific design, so dour and grey and oppressive, is our way in. If you want, kids, it’s like the Ring in the Peter Jackson films, which also turns out to be a poignant, powerful analogy of addiction. So too the stuttering. You’re not royal, or ranked? Never will be? Doesn’t matter—this story is still for you. It stands in for every neurosis, every mild personality disorder or disabling fear that is so paralyzing for so many poor people. And at the end our protagonist prevails, but realistically. Sweat, tears. Triumph! There’s always something good, isn’t there?