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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The King's Speech

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The King's Speech
The King’s Speech

St-st-stammering has been an age old p-p-problem.  In every instance, it prevents effective communication from the speaker to his audience.  While that’s unfortunate ay any stage, or in any station of life, it is particularly daunting for a monarch.  Public speaking is a huge percentage of the job description.

It’s 1934, and Bertie, a hesitant, soft-spoken chap has a speaking style akin to a skipping record.  He’s the Duke of York, the younger brother of the next king of England.  His Royal Highness is the spare in the coveted line of succession scenario known as “Heir and a Spare,” a kind of royal lineage insurance.

Bertie and his wife Elizabeth have two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret.  Older brother David is carousing with the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson.  War is brewing with Germany.  The King is about to die, and Bertie stammers (we call it stuttering).

If some of the names seem familiar here, it’s because this is the true story of the reluctant rise to power of the man who would become King George VI of England. The current Queen, Elizabeth II is his daughter.

Born Albert Frederick Arthur George, “Bertie” as he’s called by his wife Elizabeth (who would eventually become the Queen Mother) has stammered since childhood.  Sovereign duty mandates speeches, and when Bertie’s subjects turn to give him their full attention, we feel his terror.

His own wife admits she thought they’d be safe from a showcased royal life because of Bertie’s hesitant speech.  Elizabeth seeks out professional help for her husband after a particularly painful public address where Bertie seems to choke on his tongue in front of thousands of embarrassed subjects.

Enter Lionel Logue, a confident, self-assured and decidedly eccentric speech therapist who insists on being on a first name basis with his royal highness.  Bertie balks and takes aristocratic umbrage.  He may stammer but he’s still a crown prince.  Besides, Logue is a *gasp* Aussie.

Logue gradually gains the trust of the shy, frustrated prince, putting him through extensive (and eccentric) elocution exercises that include stuffing his mouth with marbles, shaking his face back and forth while humming, and rolling back and forth on the floor.  Bertie opens up to Logue about childhood traumas, including being forced to write with his right hand (he was a natural leftie) and being fitted with painful leg splints to correct his knock knees.  

Bertie is alternately encouraged and enraged by Logue’s services.  He can’t get away with stuffy royal behavior, and Logue is not intimidated by his titles. The two share a tumultuous professional relationship that somehow forges itself into a friendship.

Meanwhile, Bertie’s older brother, born Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David (called David by his inner circle) assumes the crown after the death of King George V in January 1936.  David becomes King Edward VIII for most of 1936, but abdicates in December of that year to marry the twice-divorced American socialite (Bessie) Wallis Simpson.  

Bertie ascends to the throne as King George VI, and if he thought he had to make speeches before, the word count now explodes into endless syllables of elocutionary torment for the newly minted monarch.   Lionel Logue is summoned, despite detractors within the King’s court that seek to discredit him.  As war clouds rise over Europe, it is up to the new King to rally his subjects for the battle ahead.

Colin Firth is magnificent, imbuing Bertie with both poise and vulnerability.  Firth allows you to feel the prince’s pain as if it’s your own. Helena Bonham Carter, as Elizabeth, matches Firth’s quiet strength with a devotion that transforms the royal into the simply human.  Geoffrey Rush, at his most endearingly eccentric, is mesmerizing in his compassionate arrogance, unflappable, and more valuable than the Crown Jewels to his co-stars.

Director Tom Hooper (The Damned United) zeroes in on all of the pertinent developments in the evolution of Bertie into the King of England, maintaining a poignancy between character relationships that manifests itself at every crucial turn.  Intimations between the three principals convey conflict, distress, sympathy, and in the end, a warm friendship between two men and an enduring love between husband and wife.

Aside from the improbable friendship, The King’s Speech is a little-known, utterly fascinating true story brought to the screen with humor and insight.  The film takes us up to the brink of World War II when crucial leadership was so desperately needed.  

The King was there to encourage his people.  Fortunately, Lionel Logue was there to encourage the King.

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