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Blu-ray Reviews: The King's Speech

Originally published in Sound and Image, 2011
Last updated 19 August 2012

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The King's Speech
2010 - Paramount Home Entertainment (Australasia) Pty Ltd
Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Geoffrey Rush, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce, Claire Bloom and Eve Best

Movie: Picture: Sound: Extras:

If you read a description of this movie -- a 20th Century British King with a marked speech impediment gets help from an unqualified colonial therapist -- you wouldn't bother. Although you might start to sway if you are informed that the movie won the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay Oscars. But it isn't just the possible poseurs of the Academy who think so: the 95,000 voters on the Internet Movie Database put it at number 114 of the all time great movie list (151 as at 19 August 2012).

And if my opinion is worth anything, it's hard to think of a more enjoyable two hours than to sit and watch this gentle, delightful, drama.

A large part of it is the great cast, including Colin Firth as the King in question and as his wife Helena Bonham Carter in a relatively conventional role. She delivers this with what seems to be just the right balance of upper-class expectation, and heart. Normally she plays weirdos.

The video presentation of this movie raises a question that is altogether too frequent: why do they do it? And, no, 'doing it' isn't seeming to harm the picture in any way. It looks to be presented very accurately, without noticable compression artefacts or loss of detail, and without filtering to remove grain. I saw this movie at the cinema, and the Blu-ray is identical, to the best of my recollection.

But, nonetheless, Paramount has made decisions which raise doubts. They have delivered this movie with an average video bitrate of just under 20Mbps, yet left more than 15GB of the dual layer disc unused. Why not give it 30Mbps? Then we could be absolutely confident that the compression in no visible way degraded from picture quality. The space was there on the disc, unused for anything else.

Still, I was happy with the picture quality, and with the sound quality. The audio quality is established in the first few minutes of the movie, with the future King's stutters and stumbles echoing through an enormous PA, incoherently and encompassingly. There isn't too much of this, though. Most of the movie is pretty talkie, so there isn't much need to use surrounds.

The special extras are all over the place on a technical level. The video standards are 1080i50, 1080i60, 1080p24 and 576i60, and the sound is variously Dolby Digital and LPCM. Not that it matters, but it does demonstrate the range available on Blu-ray. The one that most impressed me was an audio recording of the first speech of World War II by King George VI. This is the actual speech which constitutes the climax of the movie. My goodness, did the movie makers get it so, so right!

Running time: 119 minutes
Picture: 1.85:1, 1080p24, MPEG4 AVC @ 19.93Mbps
Sound: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 24/48 3/2.1 @ 3138kbps (core: DTS 24/48 3/2.1 @ 1509kbps); English Audio Descriptive, Commentary: Dolby Digital 2/0.0 @ 256kbps
Subtitles: English
Extras: 5 Featurettes (Various resolutions - 53 minutes); 4 Production Sketches (1080p24, MPEG4 AVC)
Restrictions: Rated (Australian rating); Locked to Region B

The following video bitrate graph was generated by BDInfo 0.5.7:

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