The King's Speech: 8 (out of 10)
When I arrived at the theatre to see The King's Speech today, the line was out the door, a pretty even mix of old and young and in-between, families and couples and individuals. Two minutes into the waiting, somebody came out and announced that there were only 80 tickets left; the line was about 100 people in by this point, and growing. My date and I were the last two people to be sold tickets. And this was for a matinee showing of an art movie that has been showing at this location for two weeks - and was apparently sold out every show.
I suppose that word of mouth works.
The King's Speech tells the story of King George VI, and specifically his speech impediment. The movie begins with Prince Albert (the future King) giving his first radio speech to the British Empire - or, more accurately, failing to do so. His wife sets out to find help for her husband, and comes across an unconventional Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue. Hijinks ensue - mind, hijinks set against the 1930s British politics, and specifically the start of World War II.
The highlight of the film is its exceptional cast, both in terms of the acting provided by the cast, and through the casting itself. The film is a who's-who of UK cinema, starting with Colin Firth as George VI and Geoffrey Rush as Logue; both play their roles with aplomb, with Firth offering an especially impressive vocal turn to his role. But the supporting cast is just as good - Helena Bonham Carter as future-Queen-Consort Elizabeth, Michael Gambon as George V (King Dumbledore!), Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, and Guy Pearce as Edward VIII. And that only scratches the surface.
Just as impressive (but much less obtrusive) was the work of the backstage craft workers. Most of the set pieces took place in places like Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, or other London tourist landmarks; and the costumes were period-accurate in a way that made them almost unobtrusive. But most impressive was the makeup and hair, with the cast working as ringers for their roles. There will be well-deserved Oscar nominations here.
And as for the story - well, the major beats were predictable, the characters not particularly deep, and the whole thing reeked of the "Royals are people too!" vibe that is popular in British cinema these days. But nevertheless, even if the story was the weakest part of the movie, it was still compelling. Partially, this was because the dialogue itself was well-written (feeling like a stage play most of the time); but mostly, the movie thrived because the story was more-or-less non-fiction. The truth can aid even the biggest cliché.
For all of that, I'm still not entirely sure why the movie was packed. Doing some research online, it looks like this is not entirely unique - this movie holds the "highest gross per-theatre" title for 2010. And yes, it was a good movie, and a good start to my year's movies. But I doubt I'll ever run into that kind of crowd at an art theatre again.
Rating: 8/10 (*** 1/2 out of 4)