The King’s Speech (2010)

(In theatres, January 2011) Combining physical-handicap drama with palace intrigue may not be the most obvious kind of mash-up, but there’s a first time for anything, and it’s the kind of stuff that upscale audiences and Academy voters just enjoy without reservations.  The King’s Speech really starts with the abdication of Edward VIII and wraps up the royal succession drama in a standard story of a man overcoming his handicap… the man in question being the next king, George VI, who suffers from a stutter that’s practically debilitating at a time where radio technology allows leaders to speak directly to the masses.  Wrapped up in a heavy dose of British interwar period values, The King’s Speech feels like a slightly-updated Merchant Ivory feature stuck in a physical-handicap narrative template: Slight, with a certain dose of ponderous self-importance.  Predictable, sure, but fascinating to watch in large part due to the talent of the actors: Geoffrey Rush is fine as the therapist with all the answers, but it’s Colin Firth who really makes an impression with his portrait of a capable man stuck within a stammering shell that limits what he can do.  The deviations from the historical record are a matter of dramatic structure: the film wraps up so neatly that it defies common sense.  The direction underscores a number of themes (for instance, in framing characters against empty walls), but it feels odd and sometimes incoherent in the way it goes from locked camera to a flying one.  But no matter: for fans of period drama, this is about as good as it gets.  One man overcoming his personal issues, plus a bit of royal drama?  Seems like a perfect match.  Expect Oscar nominations.

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