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December 5, 2010

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Fall for its awards-baiting formula

"THE King's Speech" is the kind of handsomely photographed, weighty-yet-uplifting period drama that seems to arrive amid great fanfare come awards time each year. It's based on a true story about British royalty - always a favorite among those coveted voters - features a glittery cast and hits every note you expect it to hit.

To quote Radiohead, no alarms and no surprises.

And yet the film is so flawlessly appointed and impeccably acted, you can't help but succumb. If you can get past the nagging sensation that what you're watching is a cynical calculation to appeal to the Academy, well, you'll be delighted, because the "The King's Speech" is undeniably charming.

Director Tom Hooper ("The Damned United," HBO's Emmy-winning "John Adams") and writer David Seidler give the people what they want: "The King's Speech" is high art for the masses, but you could also look at it as familiar fare that's been gussied up. At times it feels like no less of a mismatched-buddy comedy than the Todd Phillips road-trip flick "Due Date," although the opposites who initially clash and eventually cling to one another are King George VI (played by the esteemed Colin Firth) who's struggled all his life against a debilitating stutter and speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) who's trying to cure him.

But because it's so well made, "The King's Speech" allows you to forgive its formulaic nature. The obligatory training montage, for example, is shot so lushly and edited so briskly, it's almost thrilling.

The same goes for the standard misunderstanding that keeps these guys apart before their inevitable, feel-good reunion: The argument takes place in a park with harsh, misty daylight streaking through the trees, and it's striking.

The friendship that develops between King George VI and Lionel, though, provides the film with its sweet, beating heart. Watching the sparring matches between two actors at top of their game is nothing short of a joy. You may as well give into it.


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