Academic Writing

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The King's Speech

A Voice for the Great

It was recently reported that Queen Elizabeth has come out in favor of awards darling, The King's Speech. Initially I was surprised that the usually fiercely private Queen made any statement at all, let alone publicly announce that a film which depicts such a personal and painful part of her parents' life. Further, as it turns out, the screenwriter, David Seidler, had asked the Queen Mum permission to turn this story into a film. Her response was, "Not in my lifetime." So after her passing in 2002, in accordance with her wishes, Seidler began putting together the screenplay. So while she might have not been completely in opposition to the story being told, she had no interest in seeing it on the screen herself.

Directed by Tom Hooper, The King's Speech is about King George VI, played by Colin Firth, who struggled with and eventually overcame a terrible stammering problem and how he reluctantly became King of England and led his country through the perils of WWII. On the outside, that is what the film is about. However, on a deeper level the film is really about both the friendship of two men coming to terms with their lots in life and a wife taking it upon herself to help her husband when he won't help himself. I particularly found The Queen Mum's character to be particularly interesting. Played by Helena Bonham Carter, she depicts a wife and mother fiercely supportive of her family, stopping at nothing until she gets what she wants. After seeing her husband struggle with this speech in particular at public speaking engagements she decided something must be done. She seeks out Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a well respected speech therapist and stops at nothing for both parties to agree to treatment. Both reluctant at first, Logue for having a patient so reluctant of his unorthodox methods of treatment and of such high status and entitlement and "Bertie" (as was his nickname) who knew since he wasn't in line for the throne did not see the need for such embarrassment in the face of his disability.

Bertie was not anticipating rising to the throne, as the second son to King George V and Queen Mary, it would be his brother who would become King. Furthermore, his father never showed much interest or support of his younger son. Bertie was happy to allow his other brother to become King, and when faced with the reality of his brother's abdication of the throne when he chose to marry a woman twice divorced, he was terrified at the prospect of becoming king.

Firth, of course, is at the center of this film. It is his performance which is getting the most attention, and probably rightly so as he painfully accurately depicts someone with a nearly debilitating stuttering problem. He portrays the reluctant King as honest and noble even when vulnerable. However, I was mostly moved by the two supporting characters: Logue and Queen Elizabeth. The eventual Queen Mum emerges from this film as a woman on a mission, a true embodiment of the phrase, "behind every great man is a great woman." It is she who pushes her husband to get the treatment he needs and it is she who is supportive of him in his times of need. Her sympathy and love for her husband is never wavering and she is the one who encourages him to step out of his comfort zone and assures him that he can in fact lead the country when he does not think he can.

I was also taken by the relationship Logue and Bertie forged. Both men dealing with a shortcoming in their lives and rather than letting it keep them down they found ways to channel it. Bertie, as mention was pushed in that direction by his wife. Logue was a failed actor who found a way to channel his exuberance into a meaningful way. As an actor he wished to bring characters to life on stage, but as a speech therapist he could bring people to life on their own stages. His support and love for his client and eventual friend is profound. His refusal to be give up on Bertie even when Bertie pushes him away and insults him Logue stands strong and encourages him to find the voice he knows he has. Despite their reluctancies, the pair form a tight friendship and Logue ultimately gives Bertie the confidence he needed to lead the country through one of Britain's most trying periods in modern history.

To me, this film was less about a King who overcame a stuttering problem and more about a man who found out the importance of having a support system around him. It's about the heights someone can reach if he has people around him who love and support him. It's also about stepping out of your comfort zone to achieve greatness, even when you don't think it's attainable because of something you perceive as a shortcoming. When thinking about the film through this lens it occurred to me that it's no wonder why the current Queen Elizabeth would have liked this film. It brings a sense of nobility back to a family dynasty which has been lacking just that in the public eye lately.

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