07 December 2011

The King's Speech

As the Academy’s most recent winner of best picture, The King’s Speech is certainly nothing short of brilliant. Every aspect of the film’s mise-en-scene, editing, and cinematography flawlessly merge together to create a captivating English period piece that sits high among the greats. With beautiful English settings, a poignant score, stirring performances, and a compelling narrative, this film captures the very essence of film excellence and has succeeded in inspiring audiences around the world.
Based on the true story, The King’s Speech follows the story of Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth) on his tumultuous road to kingship during one of Britain’s darkest moments in history. With England on the brink of World War II, Bertie finds himself reluctantly taking on the position of king after his father (Michael Gambon) dies and his unruly brother David (Guy Pearce) gives up the position in exchange for an unconventional marriage. In the midst of such chaos, Bertie, with the help of his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), frantically searches for a way to overcome is paralyzing speech impediment. After some failed attempts by knighted doctors, Bertie and Elizabeth turn towards the unorthodox methods of speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who, despite his lower position in society, gets to the core of Bertie’s insecurities and fears and ends up forming a friendship with him that lasts a lifetime.
Aside from the stunning aspects of mise-en-scene, which are enough to captivate and impress any audience member, one of the real triumphs of this film is in the unconventional style of cinematography. Director Tom Hooper and cinematographer Danny Cohen work together in creating a unique style of cinematography that has both aesthetic and narrative value. Perhaps one of the most obvious and interesting techniques that they employ is the use of onscreen and off screen space. In an overwhelmingly large number of shots, there is an unusually large amount of space that dominates the screen while the character who is the supposed intended focus, is off to the side or towards a lower corner.

In one respect, this technique serves as a means of keeping the audience aware of the intricate details of the mise-en-scene as well as the outside events that may not have been as easily recognized in a traditional shot. So many aspects of the films setting are absolutely beautiful and the interesting use of onscreen space gives the audience the perfect opportunity to look around and take it all in.

From a more analytical perspective, however, these shots may be interpreted as representations of a character’s state of mind of current situation in the plot. This use of lead room is particularly noticeable, for example, during conversation scenes. As the camera cuts back and forth between an off-center shot of Bertie and another off-center shot of Lionel, the audience can’t help but become aware of a sense of discomfort and displacement that is ultimately representative of the characters.
Bertie, who is uncomfortable with conversation to begin with, feels out of place and off-center when faced with a microphone. Likewise, the skewed view of him on screen emphasizes his extreme discomfort and need of Lionel’s assistance. Unlike Bertie, however, Lionel is confident and bold. These shots, then, suddenly take on a new meaning and represent a different aspect of his character. For Lionel, this unusual use of space can be identified with the unconventional. Like Lionel, this technique is out of the ordinary. The alternative perspective can easily be interpreted as a picture of Lionel’s use of unorthodox practices and language to treat someone completely out of his social sphere.

This meaningful and artistic camera work is just one of the many aspects of The King's Speech that helps make the film a complete success. Not only is it an entertaining and heartfelt true story, but the aesthetics and excellence in cinematography make this a film that is deserving of its Best Picture title and one that is sure to last.

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