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The BBC original The King’s Speech is among the best made for TV I’ve ever seen, right up there with And the Band Played On, Brian’s Song and Duel. The story follows King to be, Prince Albert, or ‘Bertie’ as he’s known to his family (Colin Firth) as he struggles with a crippling speech impediment. Following a string of failed meetings with various speech therapists, his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) finds an unconventional Australian named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Meanwhile, King George V’s (Michael Gambon) health begins to recede, and Bertie is thrust into the limelight. The fact that the film swept many of the major categories at this year’s Emmy Awards was no surprise based on its historical pedigree, and even less surprise following waves of critical acclaim upon release, and… I’m sorry say again? It didn’t win any Emmys? Well that’s surprising I assumed… It what? The Oscars? No, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. The Oscars are reserved for only major theatrical releases. The King’s Speech was a major theatrical release? Uh huh… Almost $400 million world wide? Really? Wow, that is unexpected.

King's Speech, The
My snarky, perhaps entirely unamusing joking aside, The King’s Speech is about to join a pantheon of perfectly good films that would likely be forgotten by mass society had it not been for their undeserved Best Picture wins. This club (arguably, of course) includes the likes of Wings, The Greatest Show on Earth, Ordinary People, Gandhi, A Beautiful Mind and Crash. More importantly, the club features The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love, two underdogs that were reportedly ushered to the top using less than reputable means by the Brothers Weinstein, the same pair of infamous production masterminds that bought and distributed The King’s Speech in America. Here’s to hoping Peter Biskind is prepping a conspiracy fueled follow-up to ‘Down and Dirty Pictures’ as we speak. The King’s Speech is a very good, very well made, well acted, and entertaining movie that doesn’t beg multiple viewings, or inspire vivid memories.

Director Tom Hooper does a lot to make this stage play worthy of a big screen treatment, but none of it really makes a difference – it’s still a glorified TV movie. If David Slade can make something as location-deficient as Hard Candy look perpetually interesting, something set against the backdrop of London on the verge of war should have the capacity for scope.  Cinematographer Danny Cohen and Hooper pull out a very specific framing style to help stem the boring image tide. This look involves framing the characters in a far corner of the screen, seemingly in an effort to clue the audience into their isolated emotional states, or something. The look grows exhausting, and even devolves a bit in to self parody at times, but without some kind of visual trademark I fear we’d be left with nothing put the performances. And if I were to strip it further I’d be left with little to celebrate outside of another perfect performance from Geoffrey Rush. Guy Pearce is certainly amusing as David, Prince of Wales, and I find no fault with Firth, Bonham Carter, or any other expressly capable member of the King’s Speech cast, but there wasn’t any performance outside of Rush’s that left me gob-smacked. It all comes down to more expectations met, and none of them exceeded.

King's Speech, The
The film’s version of the story tends to marginalize the river of misery British’s less monarchal citizens experienced leading up to, and following the events of the UK declaration of war on Germany. Sure, Hooper, Firth and editor Tariq Anwar do a commendable job tugging the old heart strings with that climatic speech (don’t get me wrong, it’s a brilliant sequence), but in the back of my mind I was left wonder why I should care about this prissy royal overcoming his nerve, when his people are about to take about a million tons of Blitzkrieg to the face. Kind of puts a damper on the achievement. This is my own fault for bringing too much baggage to the film, and generally bad criticism, and I assure everyone that the symbolism of the act isn’t lost on me, but I’d like to think that screenwriter David Sidler’s is at least somewhat to blame. Sidler’s taste in adaptation and abilities with dialogue are solid, certainly Oscar-worthy in their way, but he misses a lot of chances for more poignant storytelling. Arguably, there’s little need for yet another film about the trials and tribulations of WWII, but why ignore so much of the rich, historical framing, even when aiming for a more character-centric take on events? Seeing the film did the service of convincing me to do some research, yes, but I was left frustrated by the script’s habit of focusing on the more mundane elements in an effort to make The King’s Speech a character piece. There’s also the matter of putting the audience in a position where they have to root for the status quo, which just generally makes me uncomfortable. Again, my problem, not yours.

King's Speech, The

Video


The King’s Speech is, as stated, a very stylistically interesting film, and this 1080p transfer is a fine sampling of Danny Cohen’s best cinematographic abilities. The palette is quite limited, feeding our American assumptions about the dire, overcast look of London. Besides the pale skin tones, most everything is either blue, green, yellow or brown from background elements and props, to wardrobe and gels. Occasionally warm elements will surprise the composition, but for the most part this is a consistently cool and under lit production (watching the film a second time I notice that the entire film becomes noticeably more vibrant and colourful the minute the climatic speech is delivered). Cohen changes up his focus quite a bit, from crisp wide angles, to fuzzy spot focus, so detail levels are all over the place. This isn’t a problem, though the lack of sharp contrast keeps the transfer from what I’d call reference quality. I have zero complaints concerning artefacts, aside from some incredibly minor halo effects along the darkest edges, and am impressed with the fine frequency of grain.

Audio


Sound design is among the film’s most admirable assets, and the production pulls out all the stops while still maintaining utter silence as the most important element (it accentuates the awkward qualities of stammering, you see). There aren’t many DTS-HD Master Audio tracks that are this impressive from an almost exclusively vocal standpoint. There are a few minor directional effects that don’t concern voice or music, such as moving vehicles, falling trees, or air raid sirens, but mostly we’re dealt a series of vocal tweaks. Sometimes voices reverberate through microphones, creating rhythm through the repetition of echo. Other times the warmth of a room is represented in the way vocals bounce against the walls. And even when they aren’t echoing throughout the rear channels, vocals are often separated effectively based on character placement, and characters are well represented by their LFE presence (the contrast in bass between Michael Gambon and Colin Firth is especially telling). Funnily enough, I saw The King’s Speech on an airplane, where all the naughty words were silenced. Amusingly, sound effects were not silenced as well, which turned the big cursing scene into a bizarre series of echoing footsteps.

King's Speech, The

Extras


There isn’t a lot here in terms of special features for a Best Picture Oscar winner, but fans should be at least somewhat satisfied. Extras begin with director Tom Hooper’s solo commentary track. I dreaded listening to this track based on my devolving opinion of the film, and Hooper’s nonplused Oscar acceptance speech. My assumptions are mostly valid. Hooper is tonally about as exciting as a napping dog, and his content is technical minded with almost no curious tales of behind the scenes excitement, but the track is not without merit, and the technically minded discussion is plenty informative, thoughtful, and on some rare occasions even entertaining (at one point he recalls the lyrics to the song ‘Montage’ from Team America). I could certainly use more historical perspective, but Hooper doesn’t leave me entirely high and dry. Next time he makes a historical flick staring Geoffrey Rush, I suggest Hooper gets himself a lively historian, and talks Rush into joining them on the feature commentary.

The King’s Speech: An Inspirational Story of an Unlikely Friendship’ (23:00, SD) starts with footage from the trailer, which sets the tone for the entire behind the scenes journey. This is about as EPK as EPKs get, including fluffy interview footage with the cast and crew, choice footage from the film itself, and some vaguely staged behind the scenes footage. This is followed by a Q and A with Hooper and the cast (22:00, HD). This is a line up before an audiences with a moderator, and though it’s clearly also meant as an ad piece proves to be genuinely charming. ‘Speeches from the Real King Georg VI’ features two recordings of the actual King actually speaking – the pre-war broadcast as seen in the film itself (HD still, 5:40) and a May 14th, 1945 post-war broadcast (SD video, 2:30). ‘The Real Lionel Logue’ (10:30, HD) is a discussion with Logue’s grandson, who apparently knew nothing of the story portrayed in the film until 2001 when his father passed away, and he found a mass of diaries and letters. Extras end with a PSA from the Stuttering Foundation, and a few Weinstein trailers.

King's Speech, The

Overall


So to reiterate, The King’s Speech didn’t really do it for me, but most of my complaints are superficial, and I can’t say I recommend against seeing the film for a first time. It didn’t deserve the Oscar, and I can’t imagine ever watching it again. Those on the other side of the fence should be very happy with this Blu-ray’s image and audio quality, which is especially impressive considering the film’s modest look and sound. The extras could’ve been something special given the film’s historical place, but the stuff we get isn’t terrible.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality.


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