Friday, December 25, 2015

Nothing But the Best: "The King's Speech" (2010)

Scene from The King's Speech
Welcome to the series Nothing But the Best in which I chronicle all of the Academy Award Best Picture winners as they celebrate their anniversaries. Instead of going in chronological order, this series will be presented on each film's anniversary and will feature personal opinions as well as facts regarding its legacy and behind the scenes information. The goal is to create an in depth essay for each film while looking not only how the medium progressed, but how the film is integral to pop culture. In some cases, it will be easy. Others not so much. Without further ado, let's start the show.

Background Information

The King's Speech
Release Date: December 25, 2010
Director: Tom Hooper
Written By: David Seidler
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Running Time: 118 minutes

Oscar Wins: 4
-Best Picture
-Best Director
-Best Actor (Colin Firth)
-Best Original Screenplay

Oscar Nominations: 8
-Best Supporting Actor (Geoffrey Rush)
-Best Supporting Actress (Helena Bonham Carter)
-Best Cinematography
-Best Editing
-Best Costume Design
-Best Original Score
-Best Sound Mixing
-Best Art Direction

Other Best Picture Nominees

-127 Hours
-Black Swan
-The Fighter
-The Kids Are All Right
-The Social Network
-Toy Story 3
-True Grit
-Winter's Bone

And the winner is...

If there is one gift that is crucial to being a leader, it's the voice. While there have been many leaders with other disabilities, the voice is important to lead a crowd and tell them what to do. In the case of director Tom Hooper's The King's Speech, it's more than a disability. It ruins confidence and must be fixed to keep England from looking weak and timid. What the film manages to do is make the condition not only seem curable, but shows the value of confidence and communication with each other in ways that are both endearing and funny. While its status as a Best Picture winner may be mired in appealing to older voters, it definitely still has its charm to bring an important person in England's history to life in ways that are exciting and inspiring.

The story begins with a young David Seidler, who suffered from a debilitating stammer. When he heard King George VI's wartime speech, he suddenly became inspired to learn more. Upon doing research, he decided that the king was a hero, believing that it takes skills to be a leader with a disability. Throughout his research, he became committed to bringing King George VI's story to life. He even wrote Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother for her approval. She would say yes, but with a catch. She wished Seidler to not do so in her lifetime, as the events were still very personal to her. Elizabeth died in 2002, and three years later Seidler went about adapting the story. He initially considered a play before deciding on film - writing the part for Paul Bettany. When he decided that Tom Hooper was the best director for the job, he suggested Hugh Grant. By some luck, both turned it down. Hooper also insisted that Seidler change the ending, which he believed to be too happy and perfect.

The film was made on a considerably lower budget of $15 million and was shot around England. While preparing, the crew came across a diary that recorded the therapy sessions between King George VI and Lionel Logue. This was done nine weeks prior to the shoot's start and influenced small rewrites to the script. Likewise Colin Firth took up voice acting lessons from his sister Katie Firth to better understand his character. This included watching old videos of the king talking. He received particularly high praise by his teacher for not embracing the stammer too much as a crutch. He was unable to perfect it, claiming that he heard traces of the more infectious tics still popping up in his performance. 

Hooper's direction was far different from the English period pieces of the time. For starters, he didn't incorporate the "soft light" that was the norm; preferring a harder light to provide a more contemporary look. With limited exceptions, most scenes were shot indoors and featured a sense of claustrophobia in order to better reflect King George VI's mental psyche. Even the framing of the many shots were meant to suggest unevenness, as Firth was often shot in the corners of frames. There were also several close-up shots to better get visual emotional cues from the actors. Among the cast, Helena Bonham Carter was the least frequently there. During the time of the 39 day shoot, she was also working on the final two Harry Potter movies, meaning that she was only present for work on weekends.

Composer Alexandre Desplat wanted a score that reflected King George VI's stammering problem. As a result, he felt the need to incorporate more of a sparing atmosphere to emphasize the absences. While he did good work, Hooper conflicted with him over adding music to the final wartime speech. Desplat won, claiming that it was the biggest moment of triumph in the film. As a result, they used Beethoven's 7th Symphony. To add a nostalgic vibe to it, Hooper borrowed five microphones from the EMI company that were era appropriate. He let Desplat record with them, resulting in a more colorful and creaking sound.

The film was met with general praise when released. In England, the film was considered to be the most successful British independent film in history. However, it was quickly met with controversy regarding its use of language. Part of King George VI's recover comes from nervous stammering that leads to profanity. In context, it was appropriate. However, the film received generally adult ratings solely because of this. It created conflict over various country's rating systems. Firth, who states that he doesn't like profanity, even defended the choice as being important to the story. Producer Harvey Weinstein went so far as attempting to solve this by releasing a PG-13 cut of the film that took out the cursing. Comparatively, it was a box office bomb that never made its way to home video. Still, it was one of many films of the time to raise conflict over profanity in films.

The film was met with 12 Academy Award nominations. Upon winning Best Picture, it was the first film to have an Australian producer win. Seidler, who made it his lifelong goal to write about King George VI, became the oldest Best Original Screenplay recipient at the age of 73 (his only win to date). Firth's win for Best Actor meant that yet another father-daughter duo from different movies won, this time with King George VI and Helen Mirren for The Queen - which was released just four years prior. It was the third film to win Best Picture with the word "king" in it (the others being All the King's Men and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). This was the ceremony, hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway, that notoriously was  The Academy's attempt to appeal to younger audiences. It has since become one of the most reviled ceremonies in history, though there's plenty of irony in The King's Speech beating the younger and hip movie The Social Network. To some, this is still seen as a sign of The Oscars being for older people and ranks among the most controversial upsets in recent decades.

The King's Speech legacy hasn't been too memorable. While it maintained the status quo for British period pieces, its actual deliberate influence isn't entirely clear. Hooper continued to make period pieces, next making an adaptation of the popular stage musical Les Miserables. It also unintentionally started an ongoing trend of Best Picture winners that features a protagonist in the media, with the following years featuring actors (The Artist), producers (Argo), a violinist (12 Years a Slave), and more actors (Birdman). Despite its success as a movie, its reputation is largely misunderstood and maligned because of its success over The Social Network: a film that many consider to be one of the most important films of the decade. While this upset isn't nearly as disastrous as Crash's win over Brokeback Mountain, it has caused many to outwardly dismiss the film entirely. Still, there's no great affection or hostility that is present in pop culture regarding the film.

The King's Speech is a film with an unlikely premise. It's a film about finding your voice when it's really difficult. What started as a love letter to a writer's own personal disability eventually turned into some entertaining period piece drama with charismatic performances and a slight British wit. While the film's legacy overshadows its actual quality, it still is a worthwhile experience for those wanting to see what a period piece can look like when done through a contemporary gaze. Is it the best winner? Probably not. However, it's still one with astounding feats that reflect the impact of cinema and why leaders matter, even if they don't sometimes believe in themselves.

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