Bad Top-Tenner: ‘The King’s Speech’

Kings Speech FirthColin Firth delivers a terrific performance just as he did in Tom Ford’s A Single Man. He doesn’t have to speak to astound us with his ability to emote intensely. See. This. Face.

But Firth is not good enough to make up for the rest of the movie. Take Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson – here, we have the perfect blend of concept and performance where neither Tom Hardy’s performance as Charlie Bronson nor Refn’s adventurous, disciplined film aesthetic can be removed without ruining the picture.

What Firth does in The King’s Speech is impressive, for sure, but when it’s not supported by a stronger picture, the film (and performance) becomes less memorable.

Kings Speech RushOf course, screenwriter David Seidler and director Tom Hooper make The King’s Speech much easier to dismiss. Albert can’t speak, so they bring in Lionel (Geoffrey Rush) as a speech therapist. The filmmakers overuse this metaphor of Albert’s inability to speak, and craft a buddy\achievement movie where a healthy dose of therapy leads to a triumphant case of self-actualization.

The movie’s reliance on this sort of self-centered focus and accompanying Freudian psychology (Albert can’t speak because, growing up, he wasn’t brave enough to speak up to his father; memories of child abuse) make the movie all the more dismissive of the complexities of human struggle, and therefore, false.  See. What. He. Went. Through?

Movies like The King’s Speech trivialize triumph because they’re not comfortable with suffering and loss in the first place. These movies portray worlds insulated from such things by redefining the human struggle as the stomping of self-doubt and the achievement of inner worth. In rebellion, they ignore the commitment to crown and country, to calling and community.

This post was originally published in 2010.

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