(Tom Hooper, 2009)
Colin Firth is the undisputed master of one type. If you have a character who's a repressed Brit, either Upper or Middle Class, displaying a classic case of stiff upper lip but with more violent passions running deeper beneath, then Firth is your man. Looking at his entire career, the films in which he does not play such a character can probably be counted on one hand.
He's played that role to death, won awards for it, done all he can with it. It's time he did something else, time he stretched himself. Play a drug dealer, a super villain. Do something, do anything, else.
Here he plays King George VI, engaging Geoffrey Rush's slightly eccentric speech therapist to aid in his battle with a stammer just as his brother abdicates the throne and he is forced to speak in public on a regular basis. He is predictably excellent, suggesting the buried anger and complexity of a man facing his own demons in public and for high stakes through the tiniest facial tremors and shifts of expression, his body language constricted and tense throughout. Rush is just as good, his colonial presence vital as perhaps the films only means of puncturing the pomposity of the British Royal family and all the ceremony surrounding it.
The film works best as a sort of a buddy movie about their two characters complete with a feelgood ending, and it has a fine supporting cast of British, Irish and Australian character actors (Timothy Spall as Churchill, Guy Pearce as the abducting David, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Jennifer Ehle) with Helena Bonham Carter particularly perfect as the Queen Mother, but director Hooper comes close to ruining it with some of his visual choices.
He favours frames with the characters - especially Firth's Bertie - isolated in the lower third, generally in a corner, an ocean of space stretching away from them. In some of the two-shots the ceilings fill half the frame in what seems almost parodic of Citizen Kane, and he uses wide angle and fish-eye lenses far more than is healthy for any film. All of this serves to tell us how isolated and pressurised Bertie is - how much is pressing down on him from above - while also functioning as a sort of visual metaphor for a stammer, echoing the frustration by leaving the image "unfinished" or cut off. In a few scenes it might have been effective, but Hooper leans on these devices so consistently that they become tiresome and almost laughable.
The script is solid and old-fashioned; it works and does what it sets out to do, and it really doesn't need this sort of rudimentary trickery to elevate it.
Indeed, Hooper's desire to elevate it is perhaps the best evidence of it's essential triteness. With its mythologising of a minor episode in Britsh history and glorification of a monarch, this is a scrupulously middle-brow film. Which explains much of it's Awards success.