Saturday, January 1, 2011

The King's Speech: A Regal Movie

It is a pleasure to add to the chorus of praise for the current movie The King's Speech.   This film is a sleeper given that it tells of how England’s King George VI doggedly worked on improving his serious stuttering problem.   But it is a wonderful story and very nicely acted, especially by the eccentric speech coach played magnificently by Geoffrey Rush.

The movie focuses on the real-life, up-and-down collaboration between Australian Lionel Logue and “Bertie,” who moves from being Duke of York in the 1920s to the unexpected throne in 1936 and then on to the dawn of World War II.  As Logue slowly helps this patient make progress and achieve confidence, an improbable friendship develops between the two men from vastly different backgrounds.

Among the additional characters is George VI’s supportive wife, the former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who became endeared to the British people as their Queen Consort during World War II and then widely admired as the Queen Mother until her death in 2002.  There also is a young Elizabeth who succeeded her father to the throne in 1952 and where she remains on the cusp of her Diamond Jubilee. 

There are brief appearances by actors portraying a dying King George V, the ill-fated Edward VIII, royal lover Wallis Warfield Simpson and Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.  Derek Jacobi plays Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Gordon Lang.

Winston Churchill, who was entangled—to his political detriment—in Edward’s abdication crisis, also surfaces in the film.  At one point, the newly-appointed First Lord of the Admiralty confides to his king that he, too, once had speech difficulties.  See: http://www.winstonchurchill.org/learn/myths/myths/he-stuttered

The film ends with a triumph for both George VI and Logue as they prep for the monarch’s crucial address to the British people on the beginning of the war in September 1939.  Of course, we now equate British oratory of World War II with Winston Churchill, and rightly so, but it was crucial that the king provide confidence to his subjects at that foreboding time.  See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAhFW_auT20

While beyond the scope of the movie, Churchill’s relationship with the war-time king was slow in getting starting.  Eventually, they formed a bond, and George VI was a valuable partner in and promoter of the war effort.  Perhaps their most memorable public event together was appearing to the British people together, in triumph, on Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945.

George VI had a good rapport with President Franklin Roosevelt, certainly complementing the Churchill-Roosevelt bond (but which also had some strains, particularly as the war progressed).   The king and queen visited the United States in 1939, and one of the amusing sidebars of the visit was their majesties’ introduction to the hot dog at Hyde Park by FDR.

The King’s Speech gives us some insights into the life and character of George VI, a reluctant monarch who performed well during a very challenging period of British history.  It also is an entertaining and uplifting story with a nice share of humorous moments.  This is a highly recommended interlude for history buffs and for those simply interested in good theatre.

See the film’s official site:  http://www.kingsspeech.com/

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