In Speechless Awe

The King's Speech: “ordinary” people facing “extraordinary” challenges

Share/Save/Bookmark

In Speechless Awe
by Darius Kadivar
19-Feb-2011
 

“Some men are born great, others have greatness thrust uponthem.” -- The King’s Speech

In a cyber age of mass communication with instant access to information, where all things past seem to be abruptly dismissed as obsolete, what makes an old fashioned film in a Victorian setting so appealing to contemporary audiences worldwide? …

The mystery of The King’s Speech’s phenomenal success seems to equally astonish its director Tom Hooper as well as its talented cast of splendid actors notably Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter in the title roles. At the centre of the plot of this small budget independent film is an anti-Pygmalion relationship between an unlikely royal figure struggling with a crippling stammer and his unconventional Australian speech therapist.

The heroes of The King’s Speech seem to shed some of their well-deserved acquired glory on our very own ordinary lives. Maybe because they are precisely “ordinary” people like us but faced with “extraordinary” challenges. It suggests there was a time when a member of the royal household experimented with psychoanalysis – disguised as speech therapy.

Which director or actor could have hoped for a better opportunity or a gem of a story to draw audiences to the theatre at a time when the world we live in seems to have never been so negatively disappointing and unglamorous?

The Reluctant Monarch

What looks at first like a conventional period drama about British royals is actually a witty and elegant new perspective on the abdication crisis in pre war Britain and the predicament of a reluctant king to be about to face his greatest challenge: deliver his first wartime speech aimed at uniting his country against the mounting Nazi threat.

Colin Firth gives a warm and convincing performance as ‘Bertie’ ( short for ‘Albert’), the Duke Of York, an introverted and uncomfortable stammerer. Bullied by his despotic father George V (Michael Gambon), and overshadowed by his older charismatic playboy brother, David (Guy Pearce) the Future King Edward VIII. Helena Bonham Carter is Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, his supportive wife who intuitively engages a new Australian speech therapist to help her husband.

This is the eccentric and undeferential Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush. Logue is a man who is confronted to his own doubts – frustrated not to have made it as a professional actor – and who is looked down as a colonial.

If for obvious dramatic purposes the film is not entirely accurate in its depiction, yet much of the events and characters described in the film (the script was penned by David Seidler - a former stammerer himself) are based on the historically well documented diaries of Lionel Logue, whose grandson Mark Logue, published prior to the film’s release (*).

Director Tom Hooper manages to deliver a film in tune with what makes British history and society so fascinating on film or in literature. One cannot help but be reminded of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion except reversed in its social status quo. Where Henry Higgins had to get Eliza Doolittle to polish up and talk proper, Logue takes his initially reluctant royal pupil in the exactly opposite direction.

Prisoner to a rigid education respectful of protocol in all circumstances be it public or private, “Bertie”, is simply too inhibited and restrained.

Real doctors are of little help either: they stuff Bertie’s mouth with marbles and tell him that smoking will relax his lungs. Nothing seems to work. Bertie struggles even to tell bedtime stories to his children. He sinks into further despair after he delivers a speech at the 1925 British Empire Exhibition; unable to deliver a speech, his audience prefigure the end of empire.

The Controvesial Speech Therapist

In desperation, Bertie and his wife seek help from an unlikely source: an unsuccessful Australian actor named Lionel Logue who is working in London as a speech therapist. To say they don’t get on is an understatement. One is a commoner, the other a future monarch accustomed to looking down at people as they bow before him. To untie his tongue, Bertie has to relax, but also to talk about what makes him unhappy, as he has never done with anyone in his life before.

When his debonair brother abdicates, in order to marry an American divorcee Wallis Simpson, Bertie is thrust onto Saint Edward’s vacant chair and has to assume the heavy burden of kingship in a new era of radio where public speaking is a necessary requirement.When Logue's methods get results, Bertie is delighted, and the eccentric therapist becomes part of his intimate circle which infuriates the palace establishment, particularly the Archbishop of Canterbury (Derek Jacobi).

Redefining the Term “Chivalry” in the Modern Age

In a sense by breaking the barrier of class and conventional social standards during his therapy sessions, Logue, thanks to his genuine behaviour, and special relationship with the King achieves where all other royal sycophants failed: developing his self confidence.

One that will also be fundamental in an age of rising totalitarianisms where dubious dictators like Adolf Hitler or Mussolini perfectly use the audiovisual medium in order to mesmerize their audience to uncanny effect.

Ironically King George VI’s intimate victory over his crippling demons becomes a turning point in that of the British Monarchy.

For the first time in an era of mass communication, a King goes from being a visual icon of divine kingship, to a personality emotionally connecting to his people, hence humanizing the royal institution and uniting his people in a common battle against tyranny.

Similarly, Logue the failed Australian actor with Republican sympathies, turned speech therapist, succeeds in reinventing the term “chivalry” by restoring its initial spirit: One which aims to serve one’s sovereign with the nobility of the heart and the purity of intentions whilst expecting nothing in return.

An Arthurian chivalresque definition so to speak, which would have most probably survived in time, be it in spirit, had it not been for the inevitable yet often disappointing practical realities of our modern age. A spirit which could well have been endorsed by another icon of the 20th century: President John F. Kennedy. So as to paraphrase his famous patriotic rhetoric: “Ask not what the crown can do for you, but what you can do for the crown!” (**)

For Logue not only manages to dismiss the “idiot’s” (sycophants so swiftly “knighted” by his imperial grace) in charge of supervising the King’s health, but more importantly helps his regal patient overcome his crippling predicament and hence save the monarchy single handedly.

An Enduring Friendship

As his mission comes to an end, Logue a commoner tolerated by the royals will learn at his own expense that his bromantic love affair with the monarch cannot last for ever. The King must fulfill his destiny and so must his therapist as they both witness, for a second time, their old Victorian world embark into one of the bloodiest conflicts of the modern age.

Author’s Notes

The King's Speech is this year's favorite Oscar contender with 12 Nominations. It is however in competition with David Fincher's The Social Network nominated in 8 categories including best actor for Jesse Eisenberg in the title role.

Official Website: The King’s Speech

(*) THE KING’S SPEECH: How One Man Saved The British Monarchy by Mark Logue and co-authored by Peter Conradi, Paperback 256 pages Sterling; 1st Edition (November 26, 2010)

(**) Kennedy’s famous speech “Ask not what the country can do for you but what you can do for the country”. The Kennedy Presidency marked by glamour and tragedy has often been referred to as the “Camelot Years”. The metaphor was partly inspired by the popular Broadway musical hit “Camelot” created by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe (see Shahbanou Farah at the Broadway Show "Camelot" in New York (1962))

Share/Save/Bookmark

more from Darius Kadivar
 
Darius Kadivar

Geoffrey Rush is named Australian of the year

by Darius Kadivar on

Australia honours Geoffrey Rush (BBC Video)

 


Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush has been named Australian Of The Year in recognition of his dedication and achievement in the arts.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard presented the star with the accolade, the highest award bestowed in his native country, during a ceremony in Canberra.

The 60 year old's film credits include The King's Speech and the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and in 1997, he became the first Australian-born actor to win an Oscar.

He told the BBC's Rico Hizon that he hoped he could use the title to broaden interest in and access to the theatre for young people. 


Darius Kadivar

FYI/ The King's Speech play 'more edgy'

by Darius Kadivar on

The King's Speech, which won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar at the 2011 Academy Awards, is being performed in its original stage version for the first time.

Starring Charles Edwards and Jonathan Hyde, the play charts the relationship between King George VI and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue.

Writer David Seidler and director Adrian Noble joined BBC Breakfast to discuss the new production

WATCH HERE: 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16699844


Darius Kadivar

Thank you my friends

by Darius Kadivar on

I will respond to you individually in regard to your interesting feedbacks in due time.

Thank you for your interest and equally excellent observations.

Stay tuned. 

DK 


Anahid Hojjati

Thanks Darius jan for an excellent review

by Anahid Hojjati on

Darius jan, I have to yet watch this movie but one of my siblings just saw it and really liked it. Only 8 days to Oscar night. I told my daughter that would be fun to watch the awards show together. Her response was that she has a tradition of not watching it. This made me laugh since if not doing something would constitute a tradition, then I have thousands of similar traditions :).


Esfand Aashena

Darius jaan very nice review!

by Esfand Aashena on

This movie must have had a great impact on you!  It is a very good movie and I've heard and seen many people being touched by it.  For me the best part of the movie was the cinematography and sets like cars, parks and attention to detail in various areas. I felt like really being there and living in those times.  Colin's play was the 2nd best thing, to me.

I haven't seen all the major Oscar nominees (not seen Biutiful yet but it is in my Netflix queue) but as far Social Network winning anything I highly doubt it'll amount to anything!  I've seen it and there is nothing special about it! If they win any of the top prizes I'll turn in my membership card for the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences! 

Everything is sacred


Red Wine

...

by Red Wine on

Thank you so much for this informatic blog dear Dariush.

But my heart is with ''Biutiful'' .Is a wonderful movie. I think Javier Bardem has a chance to win his second Oscar.

 We have to wait a bit more:).

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1164999/


comrade

Uptown cinema

by comrade on

This is what I call an educational blog. Thank you, dear Kadivar. I should stop buying discounted tickets!    

Never increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything.

 


Ari Siletz

Thanks Darius, great film.

by Ari Siletz on

Best dialog exchange:

Logue: They are idiots.

Albert: They have all been knighted.

Logue: Makes it official then. 

 

I'm hoping for an Oscar sweep.

 

Also the best line in your review:

""..reinventing the term “chivalry” by restoring its initial spirit: One which aims to serve one’s sovereign with the nobility of the heart and the purity of intentions whilst expecting nothing in return."  I don't subscribe to this view, but a true monarchist's state of mind is well expressed. And it does highlight the wisdom of Canda, Australia, New Zealand... choosing to keep Elizabeth II as the formal head of state.