The Oscars are coming. You can’t escape them. Your only solace is that whether you love, hate, or really, really don’t care about them, the media can back you up.
The apathetic normally get a rough time about now, but this year offers them a few crumbs. The best example so far is the Guardian’s online series where its writers talk about which film they think should win best picture, which was improved immeasurably by their chief sports writer Richard Williams, who made the case for Black Swan while emphasising how much he wasn’t particularly bothered by the film or the awards. Essentially his impassioned plea for the film was that “it should win because, why not, the Oscars aren’t very good.”
This blog is aimed at the more unintentionally apathetic, however. It’s for those who guiltily feel they ought to care, or who want to convince people that they know what exactly is going on but never quite got around to actually watching the films. It will also be of interest to people who enjoy disagreeing with someone else’s opinion.
Over the next ten days leading up to the awards ceremony on February 27th, I will be supplying summaries of each of the best picture nominated films, one a day, in no particular order, except that dictated by the fact that I have yet to see two of them. We’re running a professional outfit here.
So we start today, after a quick eenie-meenie-minie-mo around the nominations, with The King’s Speech. You may have heard that it won every Bafta going last week, but that’s not true at all. There was that “outstanding contribution to British cinema” thing they created especially for the Harry Potter films. It narrowly missed out on that. But anyway, just because the British Academy loved it doesn’t mean the American Academy will. So lets consider why both would choose it to win.
Average Baftas Judge: “It’s British, the Americans seem to like it, and it’s British.”
Average Oscars Judge: “English people are so backwards, hah! Oh and he’s a King! Kings are awesome. And mom enjoys that Colin Firth dude.”
This simple piece of 1980s stereotyping summarises more or less all you need to know about The King’s Speech. It is a relatively humble British film made for £10 million about a future king (Colin Firth) with a stammer who is helped by a rough-around-the-edges Australian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush), leading to a climactic speech in which he tells the nation it is going to war.
The film spends the majority of its time in slightly cramped, fairly bleak rooms, which does wonders for its tone but doesn’t quite lend itself to blockbuster status. Yet blockbuster status it achieved. So what happened? Well, there are a few things going on. First, Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter have both the global appeal and the talent to broaden the film’s horizons – especially Firth, who equals his remarkable performance in A Single Man here, taking on all the mannerisms of a stammerer without coming close to parody or impressions.
Second, the script is structured perfectly for Hollywood. People have already talked about how the therapy scenes are filmed as action scenes, breaking the film up so it doesn’t come off as all dialogue, and around this is built the story of personal triumph which, while predictable, provides enough pitfalls and barriers in all the same places a properly done romantic comedy does. Basically, there are enough familiar signposts in the movie to point any filmgoer in the right direction. All leading of course to the climax, which is the third point in itself.
A film like this stands or falls on its climactic scene, and it was a delicate job to make sure it worked. We are, after all, supposed to be cheering on the bearer of some pretty bad news here. But it works absolutely perfectly, pushed on by a swelling orchestra and backed up by the past hour and a half of sympathy the movie worked to build up. Everyone remembers the first scene, a horribly embarrasing, awkward failed public speech, and everyone wants to see a triumph over it. Avoiding awkwardness is a great motivator – people are going to will on anything if the alternative makes them squirm as much as, say, that bit in About A Boy where Nicholas Hoult starts singing. You can’t watch something like that without desperately wanting it to be put right afterwards.
The fourth point is simply that the Academy loves a story on British class and British royalty. And almost all of the humour in what is a surprisingly funny film comes from the class system – it plays perfectly for an American crowd.
So that’s it. The King’s Speech is a good Oscar nomination because it has an excellent cast, a well constructed script, the best climax of the year, and a fun view of the ridiculousness of 1930s Britain’s class system. It was unexpected, but it really is a winning combination.
So: should it win? Sure. Can it win? Yes.
You can follow Michael Fern on Twitter @popmikey