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The King’s Speech Deserves Oscars, But Not Best Picture

The King's Speech is well executed, but far from the year's best film. The King's Speech is well executed, but far from the year's best film.

At the 83rd Academy Awards, this year’s big movie is The King’s Speech. The historical drama starring Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, and Helena Bonham Carter is up for 12 Oscars, including Best Picture. It’s a good film, but better than Black Swan, True Grit, and The Social Network? Let’s think about that.


First of all, it’s essential to note that The King’s Speech really is phenomenally executed. Foremost are the performances, Colin Firth’s turn as King George VI in particular. Firth conveys a wealth of emotions – pride, shame, fear, desire – with an incredible economy of expression. He makes the plight of a very privileged man sympathetic, which is no small feat.

Rush is also endearing as Lionel Logue, but in an opposite way. His misfit speech therapist is that classic mix of eccentric, sweet, smart, and funny that has long made suckers of moviegoers.

And Bonham Carter moves in and out of scenes deftly as Queen Elizabeth, a powerfully understated presence whenever she appears.

The film is immaculate – a pleasure to look at, no doubt. But there’s something lurking under the surface of this discussion that is dying to burst forth. The King’s Speech is a good movie, but it’s not a great one. Yes, there’s much to admire, and it might be that the film deserves to win in most of the categories it’s nominated, but Best Picture? Not by a long shot.

Here’s the thing: Brilliant acting, cinematography, art direction and all those wonderful elements of execution aside, The King’s Speech at its core is a paint-by-numbers historical drama - predictable and utterly unchallenging from top to bottom.

Maybe it’s not so easy to sweep all those other brilliant elements aside with that one complaint, however major. But in the end, we go to watch movies for how the story and characters affect us. And rehashing conventions can make for a great night out at the cinema, but won't cut it if we're talking about the best movie of the year.

Here’s the plot in a nutshell: A powerful but uptight man has a fatal flaw. He must forge a friendship with a quirky but loveable misfit, who is the only person who can help him. Along the way he will learn about himself, his misconceptions of others, and be offered a shot at redemption. Sound familiar? That’s because you’ve seen this movie a hundred times in some form or another; whether it was Driving Miss Daisy or Rain Man, the list goes on. You know the sequence of events intuitively and have anticipated the inevitable climax within ten minutes of the curtain going up.  

When it comes to the story, the guts of the film, The King’s Speech offers nothing novel or surprising. It's like a finely dressed person with a humdrum personality.

So let’s say that 10 of the 12 Oscar nods are in order. But Best Original Screenplay? In a year that includes The Kids Are All Right and Inception? No way. Best Picture? Not even close. Even putting it in the Top Ten seems like a stretch.

Just to make it clear, this is an opinion, not a prediction. The Academy Awards have a tendency to make some head-scratching decisions when it comes to dishing out Oscars, particularly Best Picture. In fact, it was barely more than a decade ago that another mediocre historical piece, Shakespeare In Love, beat out the more deserving (and enduring) The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan. At the 83rd edition of Hollywood’s biggest night, let Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter collect statuettes, but leave the grandest prize to True Grit, Black Swan, or even Toy Story 3.

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Colin Firth is amazing, but The King's Speech doesn't deserve an Oscar for Best Picture.
Last modified on Friday, 21 September 2012 16:33

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