Director Tom Hooper knew what he had with Colin Firth. Hooper is sure to keep that camera shoved into Firth’s face to showcase a tremendous, believable, and absorbing performance for all its worth. His camera trickery is elsewhere too, wide angle shots used not for light effect, but for sheer visual joy. The lens is placed low, in ceilings, and in corners to give the film a sense of scale and importance. This is royalty, and the eye of Hooper makes it so on film.
For an international audience, one likely not up on the pre-WWII politics of Britain, it’s needed. There is an importance and a weight to these events that go far beyond the colorful antics of Lionel (Geoffrey Rush) teaching King George VI (Firth) the inner-workings of speech. This is a prelude to war, George taking the throne from his own brother who was unfit to lead, thrust into a public spotlight as technology caught up to his impediment.
Despite leading countries into war, King George VI had a feared enemy in the radio. King’s Speech opens on a glaring view of a microphone, another one of those Hooper shots that sets everything in place. George IV stammers his way through speeches until he is inadvertently introduced to a quirky speech therapist through his wife. She found Lionel in the classifieds, surely the perfect place to find a respectable doctor.
With all of the political prowess at hand, overwhelming royalty, style, and flair, King’s Speech is about friends working in tandem. Friends, in this case, who begin their relationship like a bitter old couple who never seem to get along (almost entirely because of the King), but for some reason sense they need other. Lionel deals with his patient’s anger issues, instituting some unorthodox methods, and even using the fury as a benefit. As it turns out, few can swear with raw passion like Colin Firth.
It would be hysterical to learn Firth won best actor purely based on a tirade of F-bombs, although it’s certainly a moment to remember the performance by. The film isn’t just the quirkiness of these people and their bond either. Like many great films, King’s Speech is a wealth of emotion, tenderness, sorrow, and celebration. It’s inspirational and an achievement, a simple story wrapped up in extraordinary events. What else do we go to the movies for?
For all of the style oozing from the lens of the camera, it all might as well have ended up in the trash once this one hit the digital intermediate stage. King’s Speech is certainly aiming for a dim, lifeless mood for effect. That’s fine. Why then does this projected world have to cover itself in two simple hues, two specific hues that make it look like every piece of Hollywood dreck being shoveled out in the summer?
Yes, this one is bathed in orange and teal, backdrops so overwhelmingly blue-ish the film could probably be listed as monochromatic most of the time. Flesh tones have a pasty, ugly, ghastly orange tint that is faded and wholly unnatural. The few scenes with actual color are bit of fresh air in these cramped, limited surroundings.
Everything seems affected, the diluted nature of the piece taking black levels with it. They exist in their own realm, a bumbled off-color tint that rarely resembles a basic black. Calling it gray doesn’t even suffice. The image as such lacks even an ounce of depth, and rather sub-par shadow detail isn’t helping. Locations fluctuate between dim interiors to slightly less dim exteriors, not a one providing even basic dimensionality.
Of course, that’s two paragraphs on what is surely Hooper’s chosen (ugh) look for the film. How does this AVC encode fare from Anchor Bay? Quite well speaking generally. The chosen stock is lightly glazed with a natural layer of grain, cleanly resolved to perfection. The streets of the city tends to be covered with a fairly hefty fog, and there are no faults on the part of the encode here for what is a difficult scenario.
Detail is… well, here and there. Either the digital intermediate played a role here too, or this master isn’t up to snuff. Medium shots are poorly delineated, giving the impression this was shot digitally or scrubbed, neither of which are correct. Faces not only suffer from that pasty look, but they seem like they’re made out of pure chalk too. In close (and there’s a lot of stuff in close) high fidelity detail comes alive. Some of the final shots of Firth giving the title speech are spectacular in their definition, and many of the shots elsewhere are of the same superior quality. It’s not overly sharp either, somewhat soft by design, yet still pleasing in these terms. Exteriors of the various buildings are great to look at as well, fine architectural details not lost to the digital tinkering. Close call.
This DTS-HD track has some work to do right from the start, Firth approaching a stadium full of people for a speech. His voice carries over the primitive speakers with force and general loudness in every channel, the echo effect completely convincing. It’s a shame there is no more public speaking by anyone, because this sound design gets it.
That leaves some other spaced out moments of note for this track, things like a plane gracefully panning through the soundfield 39-minutes in, or superlative positioning of dialogue. Camera zooms as Firth and Rush go through their daily speech routines create a fine, wide stereo split, and then overhead pan into the surrounds. The score, in addition to some rousing classical music at 27-minutes, are brought to life with flawless, balanced qualities.
Light ambiance at parties, the distressing sound of air raid sirens, and horses traveling through the sound stage are littered about the film keeping the listener planted in the center of it all. Dialogue is well rendered, clean, and precise. It’s a hard track to find any fault with aside from a lack of real punch, but it’s not like the film has any moments to provide any.
A commentary is provided by Tom Hooper alone, followed by an overlong promotional featurette, An Inspirational story of Unlikely Friendship. A Q&A session has cast and crew sitting down with a theatrical audience for around 22-minutes. Two actual speeches from King George VI are available here, including the one recited by Firth at the end of the film. The Real Lionel Logue speaks with the man’s grandson about his grandfather’s job and life. A PSA for The Stuttering Foundation is left.
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