“The King’s Speech” (2010). Cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Claire Bloom, Jennifer Eble, Freya Wilson, Ramona Marquez, Eve Best, Timothy Spall, Anthony Andrews, Roger Parrott. Director: Tom Hooper. Screenplay: David Seidler. www.kingsspeech.com/
The journey to find ourselves nearly always involves the search for our own voice, usually figuratively, but sometimes quite literally. It can be a terribly painful process, one that requires tremendous courage, stamina and fortitude. But the payoff that comes from successfully locating that often-elusive expression of ourselves can be beyond words. Such is the case of a reluctant, stammering monarch who is unexpectedly thrust into leading his nation during wartime in the compelling new biopic, “The King’s Speech.”
England’s King George VI (Colin Firth) might best be described as “the man who wouldn’t be king.” In fact, he often eschewed the public eye due to a debilitating stutter that seriously hampered his public speaking abilities. However, when his older brother, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), abdicated the throne to marry the love of his life, twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), George was next in line to ascend the kingship, a prospect that, because of his condition, terrified him. But, if that weren’t enough, he assumed his reign not long before England entered World War II, a time, ironically enough, when his country looked to its sovereign for a voice of confidence and reassurance.
In the years before he became king, “Bertie” (George’s nickname in royal circles, a derivation of his given name, Albert) had undergone countless forms of treatment for his stammer but to no avail. After many futile attempts at overcoming his condition, Bertie was ready to give up. But, thanks to the patient, persistent support and clandestine resourcefulness of his wife, Queen Elizabeth (who in later years would affectionately come to be known as the Queen Mum) (Helena Bonham Carter), the future king would enter treatment with an unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian transplant who brilliantly worked his magic on the hesitant heir to the throne.
Unlike Bertie’s prior speech therapists, who focused exclusively on attempting to alter the mechanics of his speaking voice, Logue quite astutely searched for the psychological and emotional reasons underlying his condition. This was a tall order, however; coaxing a stiff upper-lipped royal to open up about his personal life to a commoner was like trying to pry open a padlocked box with a paper clip. What’s more, Lionel’s capabilities and qualifications were called into question, particularly by perfunctory, brown-nosing insiders like Archbishop Cosmo Lang (Derek Jacobi), who saw the upstart outsider as an opportunistic interloper and sought to have him removed from his appointment. But, given how much Bertie wanted to overcome his linguistic challenges, and because Logue insisted that George play by his rules, the hesitant patient went along with his therapist’s unusual techniques. In doing so, Logue forced the future king to face the fears driving his stutter, many of which stemmed from the stringent demands placed on him by his late father, King George V (Michael Gambon), and the mercilessly cruel teasing that he experienced at the hands of others, including royal family members. It was a painful process for Bertie to undergo, but the effort paid off at a time when he—and his entire nation—needed it most.
“The King’s Speech” explores a number of significant conscious creation/law of attraction principles, and it does so quite effectively. Most notably among them, as already discussed, is the fear factor, specifically learning how to overcome them in order to move forward in one’s life. Had Bertie not been willing to do so, one can only imagine how he would have handled himself as king, particularly at a trying time when his country so desperately needed a strong leader. Facing fears is crucial to have the courage to change one’s circumstances and live heroically, and that’s precisely what George’s odyssey exemplifies.
In the process of the king facing his fears, viewers are simultaneously given a glimpse of how our outer world reflects the inner realm of our thoughts and beliefs. This becomes especially apparent when Lionel presses Bertie on revealing the reasons behind his stammering. The fear-based beliefs that the king had allowed to become stubbornly internalized rise to the surface, thereby revealing the source of his stutter; their subsequent internal rewriting, in turn, enabled the outward alleviation of his condition.
In a similar vein, viewers also get to see how Lionel and Bertie serve as mirrors of one another. For instance, even though Logue had achieved a reasonable degree of success as a speech therapist and elocution expert, his real passion was to appear on stage as a Shakespearean actor, a dream that nearly always resulted in disappointment. This is illustrated, quite ironically, in a scene when Lionel unsuccessfully auditions for the lead role in Richard III, the tragedy of another English king who, like George, is afflicted with a disability. The mirrored circumstances in this are anything but coincidental.
As this intensely personal story unfolds, viewers also witness a larger story play out, with George and Lionel serving as metaphors for bigger issues. For example, each character clearly symbolizes his social status, and their sometimes-incendiary interactions unabashedly reveal the disdain that existed between their respective classes. Similarly, the often-tense relationship between Logue, an Australian, and Bertie, a British native son, effectively illustrates the prevailing arm’s-length association between the homeland and the colonies, a connection not unlike what existed between them with respect to class status. Fortunately, the clashes slowly give way to understanding; with the fading of animosity, amicable relations evolve, both on the micro level of the protagonists’ relationship and on the macro level of class and nationality. Indeed, as with Rick and Louis in “Casablanca,” the experience gave rise to a beautiful friendship.
“The King’s Speech” is a flat-out winner on many fronts. The acting is superb, the writing is crisp and witty, and the production values are all top shelf. It takes a story whose premise might ordinarily be seen as dry and uninteresting and elevates it to the level of a real crowd-pleaser. And, for its efforts, the film is being lavished with all kinds of recognition, including seven Golden Globe nominations for best dramatic picture, best dramatic actor, best supporting actor and actress, best screenplay, best director and best musical score. I’d say it’s a fair bet that it will fare equally well when it comes to Oscar nods. But, after viewing this picture, it’s easy to see why: It’s a thoroughly entertaining movie with plenty of humor, emotion and warmth. And who knows—in the end, it just might leave you speechless.
Copyright © 2010, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.