Director Tom Hooper (left) appeared at today's London Film Festival press conference for his new film The King's Speech along with his lively stars Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter. It was a livelier event than most as the panellists all talked openly about some big issues (disabilities, politics, history) while having a good time revealing how they approached playing real-life characters in the film. They clearly seem a bit surprised by all of the awards attention at this point in the process. But then buzz on this film started back in the spring when people started seeing rough cuts. Here are my comments on the film, plus a couple of others from the festival today and tomorrow...
The King's Speech
dir Tom Hooper; with Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush 10/UK *****
Momentous historical events add a remarkable kick to this already fascinating personal drama based on true events. The film also gives Colin Firth yet another meaty role to dive into. He plays Bertie the Duke of York who was suddenly thrust onto the throne when his brother Edward VIII abdicated in 1936. But a debilitating stammer made him terrified of public speaking, something he would need to do in the job, especially as war was declared with Germany. The film traces these big events through a character-based story that is utterly riveting. Firth finds hidden textures in the role, and his interaction with Rush is sharp and often hilarious. Helena Bonham Carter adds a serious kick as Bertie's wife Elizabeth (aka the Queen Mother). In other words, the film has Oscar written all over it, and rightly so for a change.
It's Kind of a Funny Story
dir-scr Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck; with Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis 10/US ***
While this comedy is an intriguing exploration of mental illness, the title is perhaps too accurate: it's only kind of funny. But if the film is somewhat mopey, it's also packed with great moments. It also tells its story in a nicely relaxed, low key way that allows the gifted cast to underplay their scenes and avoid mental hospital movie cliches. Along the way, there are some sharp insights into both mental health and teen angst, and it's astute enough to keep us engaged. Although the sentimentality is a little too heavily laid on to actually move us.
Home for Christmas
dir Bent Hamer; with Reidar Sorensen, Fridtjov Saheim 10/Nor ****
Combining colourful characters with the continual presence of Christmas lights, Norwegian filmmaker Hamer weaves together a series of sentimental but never syrupy holiday tales about generosity. Based on a collection of short stories, the film captures the holiday season on screen in ways we've never seen before (no mean feat!), with the continual presence of Christmas lights and trees reminding us and the characters of their responsibilities, goals, hopes and dreams. And when Hamer stirs in clever references to that first Christmas, as well as Muslim-Christian relations, the film finds surprising resonance.