Before I get into the problems I had with The King's Speech, let me state for the record that it is a fine film, with fine performances, a fine script, directed, well, finely. It featured a number of laughs, although I thought it rather odd how rowdy the laughter in my theater got for the merest droll quip from Geoffrey Rush's Lionel Logue. If it wins Best Picture at the Academy Awards later this month, it would not nearly be the worst movie to do so, to be sure. Not that that is such a high bar to clear, but I think it's important to distance myself from some of the absurd backlash against this movie.
That being said, I think some of the frustration evinced against The King's Speech is valid. This film is structured so much like previous Oscar favorites that it can't help but feel like an intentional ploy to ensnare their votes. I mean, you have the sheer Britishness of the movie, and add on top of that the overcoming of a disability through friendship, and then there is the distant echo of WWII and the Holocaust hanging over the events of the film. It's amazing that they didn't shove Judi Dench into this picture just to make sure the Academy would love it. Really, the chief achievement of this film is finding an interesting historical story that somehow had escaped wider knowledge.
There just isn't anything substantially interesting or different about The King's Speech. Following its plot line you find yourself calling out its similarities to any number of other movies. "Oh, here's the training montage." "Oh, here's where the two friends have a falling out." "Oh, here's where he realizes he needs his friend." Even, "here's where they run the title cards to let you know that everything after the movie turns out just fine." It's all very rote and formulaic.
As for the acting, I think all Firth and Rush did very thoroughly professional jobs in their roles, but my two favorite parts in the film were Helena Bonham Carter's Duchess of York and Guy Pearce's Edward VIII. To some extent I felt like these two were the only ones who really created a character in their performances. Firth was pretty much just a stammer, which I'm sure he captured very accurately, and Rush was just an eccentric, which, if you've seen his award speeches, shouldn't seem like too much of a stretch for him.
Anyway, it will be interesting to see in the years to come whether consensus will hold up on The King's Speech as a Best Picture winner. (Make no mistake, this is definitely going to win.) Like I said up top, this may not be Crash or Slumdog Millionaire, but I feel like there are enough really interesting movies this year that in the future people will wonder what we were thinking. That's not the fault of anyone associated with The King's Speech, but it casts a pall over the film nonetheless.