“The King’s Speech” tells the story of a man who is forced to speak to the world haltingly. It must be quite painful for a stuttering person to talk to other people. Facing a radio microphone and knowing that the United Kingdom was listening must be scary. At the time of the speech mentioned in this title, a quarter of Earth’s population is in the Empire, and of course most of North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia will be listening—and with particular concern, Germany.
Its king is George VI. It was 1939. Britain was at war with Germany. His listeners need firmness, clarity, and determination, not stuttering punctuated by agonizing silence. This is a man who never wanted to be king. After his father’s death, the throne would pass to his brother Edward. But Edward left the throne “to marry the woman I love,” and the task fell to Prince Albert, who had struggled with his speech from an early age.
In the face of a crowded arena and radio audience, he endures pain in an attempt to get the words out. Well. His father, George V (Michael Gambon), had always considered “Bertie” as superior to Edward (Guy Pearce), but mourned the introduction of radio and news, which required a king to be seen and heard at public events.
In that 1925 speech, we see Bertie’s wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), her face full of sympathy.He saw various speech therapists, one of whom tried the old marbles-in-mouth routine first recommended by Demosthenes. Nothing works, and then she looks for a failed Australian actor named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who has founded a speech therapy practice.
Logue didn’t realize at first who he was consulting with. And one of the subjects of this film is Logue’s attitude towards the royal family, which I suspect is unusual for Australians; he suggested to Albert that they get first names. Albert had been raised in the jar of monarch bells and objected to such treatment, not because he had a higher opinion of himself but because, well, it wasn’t done. But Logue realized that if he wanted to become the king’s therapist, he must first become his friend.
If the British monarchy is good for anything else, it’s great at producing film subjects. “The King’s Speech,” rich in meticulous detail of period and class distinctions, largely avoids the story that looms over this period, Edward’s shocking decision to give up the crown in order to marry a woman who has been divorced three times. Indeed, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (as they became) would occupy an inexplicable volume of attention for many years, considering they had no significance after the Duke abdicated. The bad thing is that Wallis Simpson considers himself worthy of such a sacrifice from the man he supposedly loves. The film finds more interesting stories about better people; Americans, who were not always experts in British royalty, may not necessarily have realized that Albert and his wife Elizabeth were the parents of Queen Elizabeth II. God knows what Edward might be a father.
Director Tom Hooper made an interesting decision with the set and visuals. The film is mostly shot in the interior, and much of the space is long and narrow. That’s unusual in historical dramas, which emphasize sweep and grandeur and so on. Here we have long corridors, a deep and narrow main control room for the BBC, rooms that look very elongated. I suspect he might have stirred up the walls of Albert’s narrow, constricted throat as he struggled to get the words out.
Helena Bonham Carter, who can be merciless (as in “Harry Potter”), is here filled with compassion, wisdom and love for her husband; this is the woman who became the beloved Queen Mother of all our lives, died in 2002 at 101. Because men have strong desires, she tries to smooth things over (and raise her daughters Elizabeth and Margaret). And to a greater extent, Hitler took power, war drew near, Mrs Simpson wreaked havoc, and the dreaded day drew nearer.