Someday, when I write my multi-part investigative series about the ins and outs of The Wilma for this paper, I plan on devoting at least 3,000 words looking into how the distribution of independent films works in Missoula. (Because I know you're interested, Part One will investigate why western Montana's most beautiful theater also has its worst sound system, and Part Two will attempt to answer why management charges the same price to see a film in the small theater, where one can sit in folding chairs and stare at a screen only slightly larger than the biggest televisions available at Best Buy.)
But Part Three will delve into the mysterious time lag that tends to result in many films opening at The Wilma a month or two after going wide across the rest of the country. Maybe there's a reasonable explanation—the guess here is money—but at this point it is no longer the exception but the rule. Take The King's Speech, which opened in limited release the last week of November. I realize Missoula will never compete with New York and Boston and Los Angeles for first dibs on opening a movie, but what's from stopping The King's Speech from arriving in Missoula when the film goes into wide release, as it did in mid-December?
I understand this may sound like a petty complaint, but think about it: By the time The King's Speech finally opened at The Wilma last Friday, you already knew it was going to be good. That makes my job a lot harder.
It's great, actually. As I write this, Colin Firth has just picked up a Golden Globe award for best actor for his wonderful portrayal of the stuttering and stammering King George VI—an accolade that is almost surely to repeat itself at next month's Academy Awards. And he will deserve it. It's cliché to laud the actor who has taken on the role of disabled character (Tropic Thunder made that premise a running joke the entire movie), and to successfully pull it off requires not only a great script but the discipline not to overreach. There can be a fine line in films like these—and The King's Speech is no exception—between manipulative melodrama and brilliance. This one falls well on the side of the latter.
The movie's climatic scene where, well, the king gives his speech, is evidence to this fact. It's one thing to root for a character you've grown to like and admire over the course of two hours. It's another altogether to feel nervous for that person, to want them to succeed so badly that you mentally urge them along. I watched that scene with the same emotion as if it was my brother or sister giving the most important speech of their lifetime. I did not want him to fail.
A film must earn those sentiments, which it does by integrating a fascinating but forgotten historical tale of pre-World War II England with a cast that manages to stay on par with Firth. That's no easy task considering Firth had me believing his painful-to-watch speech impediment within the movie's first five minutes. But Geoffrey Rush as speech therapist Lionel Logue and Helena Bonham Carter as the king's stubborn-but-loving wife are nearly perfect in their supporting roles.
The King's Speech is the product of a strong original screenplay by David Seidler, but the film has the feel of an adapted play as it follows the strange tale of the British monarchy over the course of about 15 years. The future King George VI sought help for his horrendous stutter long before taking the throne, and only ended up as king after his brother became the first and only British royal to abdicate his position after falling in love with a twice-divorced American socialite.
The film plays up the reluctance of the younger brother to assume the symbolically important position, but makes it clear he's far more qualified and attuned to the world's events to take on that role at a perilous time. If only he could speak in public. With fine direction by Tom Hooper—who most recently helmed The Damned United, another British historical drama and one of my favorites of last year—The King's Speech gives us a wonderfully satisfying working friendship between Lionel and the King. Each has their doubts about the other, and Logue's methods are admittedly quirky and unconventional. But they work, however slowly, to get to the root of the problem. Logue is as much a shrink as he is a speech therapist and Rush captures that dedication to his patient with irreverent charisma.
That The King's Speech will make you empathize and sympathize with British royalty—perhaps the most spoiled and coddled class of humans on the planet—is an achievement in its own right. That the film will make you love these people takes it to an entirely different level.