David Edelstein calls The King's Speech a "middlebrow masterpiece." That phrase, which comes at the beginning of what seems like a fairly positive review (might just be snark), really bothered - after I'd seen the movie and liked it. That is, I knew exactly what he meant, and felt myself safely remote from it, until suddenly I found myself tarred with that middlebrow brush (middle browbrush?). Then - ouch.
But hey: Madame Bovary, she's me, eh? That is, I still know (I think) exactly what he meant, and I think (I know, I know) I agree. The film is middlebrow because, thematically, contentually, it's not challenging, subversive, or otherwise difficult enough to make it highbrow: it is, in movie jargon, a feel-good movie, which usually doesn't make for art. At the same time it's clearly more serious, thoughtful, and in every way grown up than yer average blockbuster, aimed at yer average teen, which is to say, it isn't lowbrow. Stylistically you can say the same: it's too carefully made - too many off-center compositions, stifling but meaningful closeups, contemplative pauses - to be lowbrow, but certainly not experimental enough to be highbrow. So: middlebrow. I admit it.
And: masterpiece? Well, it's pretty impeccable. It's not experimental, stylistically, but it is extremely effective. The camerawork, for example: it crowds you right up in the king's face, or against his back, very obtrusively, but very effectively, because it forces you to confront what he's confronting (and not confronting): his fears, his block.
Other aspects of the film are just as good. Primary among them, of course, is the acting. It's mostly a two-man show: Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth. They're perfectly balanced, each performance perfectly attuned to the other. Rush, as the unconventional, Australian, slightly disheveled but dashing Logue brings in just a devilish hint of Barbossa. Firth, who specializes in trapped, frozen, suffering decency (his Mr. Darcy is the template, but his turn in A Single Man was the true heartbreaker), brings us that here, but with the slight variation of an unpredictable rage that lends the character complexity.
And the feel-good-iness. It's there. I mean, it did it, for the wife and myself. Maybe a fully historically accurate dissection of George VI, like what Christopher Hitchens desires, would have been equally engrossing. Now that I've seen this film, I'd see that one, if it got made. But does being aware of the potential for that one mean we can't have this one? Maybe I don't take history seriously enough...