I was very much surprised when I saw The King's Speech last week. Not surprised by the fact that it is immensely popular (both Bagehot in the Economist and Jonathan Freedland at the Guardian provides some cultural and sociological context, as well as critic against, what Bagehot calls, the preposterousness of it), but surprised by how bad it was, and how seldom you see a decent script almost ruined, and good actors almost wasted, as you do here. I don't know what went on during the making of the film, but a lot of the responsibility must rest on the director Tom Hooper.
Granted, the script, by David Seidler, is sentimental and cliched but it is still an interesting story, full of nuances, and it plays nicely with the combination of physical and psychological therapy (and people who stammer have expressed their joy of having a film take their predicament seriously), but all of that is nearly lost in the haze of bad judgements and awkward use of the camera.
As for the camera work and cinematography (Danny Cohen is DP), there was a strange shift of style and look from one scene to another. When they were indoor, it often looked like it was shot on a theatre stage, with weirdly large and square rooms. But sometimes, it looked as if the director and the DP wanted to out-do Stanley Kubrick by using fisheye lenses and very striking shots from long distances or from unusual angles. But then, when Lionel (Geoffrey Rush) and Bertie, the king, (Colin Firth) was walking in a park, it looked like a battle scene shot by Ridley Scott. Whatever the thinking was behind these various choices it wasn't thought through, because now it looked like a filmed play with some rather desperate efforts to "open it up", which instead made it look incoherent and unsure of itself. I'm not saying that every scene in a film should be shot the same way, of course not, but there should be same kind of rhyme and reason, and also some kind of connection between the content of the scene and the look of it.
This aspect of overdoing it affected the acting as well. I'm not denying that there were some good scenes, but I felt that there was a lot of overacting, and that when a scene was supposed to be moving I wasn't moved, but rather thought to myself "aha, this is supposed to be a moving scene". There was too much emphasis and too much underlining of every thing that was said and done, even some short silences, as if they were performing on a stage and wanted to give the audience a chance to either applaud or laugh, when a joke had been made.
There were also a lot of repetitive shots and scenes, sprinkled out through the course of the film, which suggested a lack of imagination.
This is not to say that there were no redeeming factors. It was well-paced, and it was often rather funny, but even then with the somewhat annoying habit of making sure that the audience got the joke and had time to laugh at it. Some instances of the battle of wits between Lionel and Bertie were really good, and the script is more complex than a summary of the film will do justice to. And, as I said, with the story it is telling, both about Britain in what would be their "finest hour" and about a decent (although I wouldn't exactly call him "ordinary" as they do in the trailer) man fighting against an insensitive family and a handicap, it's no surprise it's such a hit. But it feels a little odd that the reviews, on both sides of the Atlantic, have mostly been all roses and few thorns, with the exception of the ever reliable Manohla Dargis at New York Times.
The larger question here is if the audience and the critics are uncritical or unaware of the look and feel of the film (any film), or if they, unlike me, just doesn't care, as long as it is a good story?