'The King's Speech' Poster and Queen Bonham Carter's Oscar Problem
When fans of The King's Speech saw its shockingly awful original poster (with Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, and Helena Bonham Carter), they let fly more obscenities than the stuttering King himself. It could be the worst poster for a frontrunner in Oscar history. (THR readers, if you've seen worse, send them to Tim.Appelo@thr.com.) It has all the dullness of The New Republic's winner in its Worst Newspaper Headline in History contest, from the New York Times: "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative."
The sharp new poster really is worthwhile, a tight shot of the King and his microphone nemesis; it has a punch comparable to The Social Network's typeface/headshot poster. But the original three-headed poster may have been an attempt to market one brilliant, underpublicized aspect of the film: its triple-threat ensemble. Rush's performance is not much less prominent than Firth's, and Carter wowed critics in the smaller but pivotal part of Queen Elizabeth. On Sunday she won best supporting actress and the Richard Harris Award at the British Independent Film Awards.
Director Tom Hooper hounded her to take the part, which was ridiculous since she was simultaneously playing Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. "She never actually said yes, but I kept asking," Hooper told me at the film's premiere in Telluride. Having one of the all-time icons of period film (and the great-granddaughter of British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith) playing the queen who wore the pants in the royal family paid off.
But can it pay off for Bonham Carter? Ordinarily, it's a slam dunk: You play a queen superbly, you get an Oscar. It worked for Helen Mirren and, in a relatively brief role, Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love. Bonham Carter's problem is this: She played two queens the same year, Elizabeth and the macrocephalic Red Queen in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. Plus, the pureblood witch Bellatrix. Three distinct roles, done with distinction, in an out-of-nowhere indie, a splashy fantasy and a movie series whose grosses are 3 1/2 times the size of Greenland's gross domestic product and rising.
What does a girl have to do to win an Oscar around here? What more could she have done? Doing less might have worked better -- one big role instead of three little ones. In The King's Speech, there's only room for the acting duel of Firth and Rush in the Academy's overcrowded mind. If there were an award for best secondary supporting actress, she'd be a surefire nominee. Her Red Queen was striking, but its CG wizardry sort of upstaged her acting. It was impossible to stand out in the overcrowded canvas that is Harry Potter 7. "To be honest," she said, "I think it's a hell of a lot of plot to fit into two hours."
And three small, great parts are a hell of a lot to fit into one year. Unless she gets a huge unexpected push from critics' groups, this probably won't be the year of her second Oscar nom (after 1997's The Wings of the Dove).