The King’s Speech is yet another of those classy, high-minded British films about the royal family. It is also an impressive personal drama about a man’s struggle to overcome a crippling handicap.
We first see Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth) trying to give a routine speech at a trade exhibition, and making a botch of it due to his extreme shyness and uncontrollable stammer. Speechmaking is one of the primary duties of a member of the royal family, and his inability to handle it is a source of great distress.
“Bertie”, as his family calls him, also suffers in other ways, as we see when he struggles to tell a story to his young daughters. “Once upon a t-time there were two little p-princesses named Elisabeth and Margaret whose p-papa was a p-p-p-penguin…” (Of course he is wearing a dinner jacket when he attempts this.)
Of course Bertie has access to the finest physicians and therapists in the land. They advise him to smoke lots of cigarettes and practice talking with his mouth full of marbles. None of this proves helpful.
In desperation his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) seeks out a less respectable therapist, an Australian named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Logue is not particularly impressed by royalty, and he and Bertie initially hit it off rather badly. However they are eventually able to forge a working relationship and Bertie starts to make slow progress.
But then the thing Bertie fears most comes to pass: his brother abdicates and Bertie is required to become King. (He is also forced to take the throne as “George VI” since the name “Albert” was thought to sound too German.) Now if he cannot make good speeches, it could mean ruin for the monarchy.
The movie is entertaining and sometimes inspiring, but one thing rather annoys me. Timothy Spall has a small role as Winston Churchill, and he manages to make Churchill seem rather clownish. This strikes me as small-minded.
The movie makes a big deal of the importance of George VI’s speeches in boosting national morale during World War II. There is probably some justification for this. At the very least it would have been highly demoralizing if the king had stuttered and stammered his way through the declaration of war.
But George VI’s contribution pales before Churchill’s. Winston Churchill was the greatest English orator and rhetorician of the 20th century, perhaps of any century. His leadership inspired not just England, but the entire world.
This movie is rated R because of a scene in which the therapist orders his highly repressed patient to shout bad words.