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Telluride Review: The King’s Speech Heads for Oscars

Telluride Review: The King's Speech Heads for Oscars

Critic Tim Appelo reports from Telluride that The King’s Speech is a serious Oscar contender.

Buck Henry likened the Telluride Film Festival to Valhalla, the place where cinema’s great warriors go for eternal glory – say, tonight’s tribute honoree Claudia Cardinale. But Valhalla is Old Norse for “Hall of the Slain,” and Telluride is more like the Hall of the Newborns, a ward for indie gods getting their first worship. Is there a springier springboard to the Oscars than the Telluride Film Festival?

The big worship winner and potential Oscar magnet I’ve seen so far at Telluride 2010 is the world premiere of Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, with Colin Firth as Bertie, King George VI of England, and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the Australian speech coach/de facto shrink tasked with curing Bertie’s crippling stutter. There’s more at stake than pride, since Hitler is taking over Europe, and as the King tells his little daughter Elizabeth when she asks what Hitler is saying in his radio speech, “I don’t know, but he seems to be saying it rather well.”

Everything rides on the King’s big speech to rally half the planet to the Allied cause, and David Seidler’s script relentlessly rachets up the tension while expertly sketching characters in a stroke and keeping the Telluride audience in stitches. “Today we felt like we were in a Noel Coward play,” said Rush after the standing ovation died down.

It’s a ripping yarn ripped right out of the headlines (and out of the speech coach’s diary, fortuitously discovered nine days before filming began). Firth and Rush are geniuses who raise each other’s game – their first scene together, shot on their first day, is as good in its veddy Brit/Aussie way as the Dennis Hopper/Christopher Walken acting duel in True Romance. The King’s Speech is the true bromance of the year, as winning a film about royals as anything starring Helen Mirren.

History helped by providing a terrific foil for Bertie, his vile, Hitler-fancying big brother Edward VIII (an impeccably oily Guy Pearce), who had to abdicate because he insisted on marrying his mattressback American mistress, double-divorcee Wallis Simpson, who gets 17 carnations a day from von Ribbentrop. Michael Gambon is great as Bertie’s crushing dad (whose idea of speech coaching is shouting, “RELAX!!”) and Helena Bonham Carter as his amused but sympathetic wife. Carter—she’s not a woman, she’s a time machine, catapulting you back to an epoch when people knew how to live, and had the cash and style to do it.

The King’s Speech has style to burn, and wit, and resonant emotion. Long may it reign.

Here’s an A.P. print and video interview with Colin Firth:

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