4 Stars – Enlightening
Capturing the life of a modern British Monarch is difficult since historical interpretations can vary widely. In the telling of the rise of King George VI to the throne of the British Empire, we are treated to a delicious blend of empathy and comedy.
George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George; 1895 – 1952) was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 1936 until his death. He was also the last Emperor of India (until 1948), and the last King of Ireland (until 1949). His rise to head of state on December 11, 1936 followed the somewhat scandalous decision by his elder brother Edward VIII, who had become king one year earlier, to abdicate the throne and “marry the woman I love,” the twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson. George VI was succeeded in death in 1952 by his eldest daughter, Elizabeth II, the current Queen of England.
The focus of “The King’s Speech” is George’s (Colin Firth) stuttering which had plagued him since childhood. Since he lived a quiet life out of view of the public, his personal embarrassment was shared only with those close to him. By the 1930’s, due primarily to the invasive medium of radio, George (Bertie as he was known by his family) was reluctantly thrust into many public situations where he had to expose his reticent speaking ability.
The counter play in the story is the confident and unorthodox Australian-born speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). The future king and Logue engage in a love-hate relationship that includes a series of vocal and physical exercises that are quaint and amusing by today’s standards. The important fact is that they worked. Bertie and the nation came to have confidence in his leadership and important national voice during the dark days of World War II.
Although “The King’s Speech” doesn’t overly psychoanalyze the reasons for Bertie’s stammer, there is a not-so-subtle implication that it was due in no small part to the intimidation continually rendered by his father, King George V. The royal family is not known for nurturing its young, but rather handed off the rearing of children to nannies and servants. Bertie’s father seemed intent on stiffening the backbone of his son by passing on the lessons he himself had learned as a child, namely, that fear will make you a man.
There are two lessons inherent in this tale: The first is that there is no substitute for parental nurture when it comes to teaching the next generation how to love both self and neighbor, as well as community and countryman. The second is that a confident, assuring and inspiring “voice” by a leader is critical in shaping the confidence, or lack of it, in a nation. Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan are remembered as much for the national tone they set as for the political accomplishments of their administrations.
George VI and his wife Elizabeth (better known as the Queen Mum) became among the best-loved royals of the 20th century due in no small part to their leadership during World War II. When the Queen Mum died at 101 years of age in 2002, she was revered as one of the most beloved people in England. The confidence they both displayed during their early years in the 1930’s was greatly enhanced by the gifted teaching of a little known speech therapist who gave England its voice.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. Confidence is difficult to build in a child. How did your parents help you become confident, or how did they hamper this process? If you have children, how are you doing so with them?
2. The monarchy of England has taken some hits recently. Do you believe it is a relic of the past or a unifying presence?
3. There are many mannerisms, such as stuttering, that can plaque a person. What mannerism do you have that has hampered you? How are you working to overcome it?