British royalty is in. The world is atwitter with Prince William’s engagement to Kate Middleton and the 2010 movie “The King’s Speech” is nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards, 14 awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 14 British Academy of Film Awards and 12 Academy Awards. And it deserves every bit of the hype.
The film tells the well-kept story of how King George VI (Colin Firth) succeeded his brother Edward on the English throne and overcame his stammer with the help of the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffery Rush) to rally England when Adolf Hitler declared war on Europe in 1939.
Set in a period when the British monarchy was becoming increasingly accessible to the public through the British Broadcasting Company, Firth’s character (known to those close to him as “Bertie”) battled anxiety over his stammer as he was forced to give speeches in public and radio addresses.
Bertie’s wife, the future Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), approaches Logue seeking help for her husband’s stammer. Logue later convinces Bertie, then the Duke of York, that he could help him by playing music into headphones while Bertie reads “Hamlet” into a sound recorder. The frustrated Bertie only agrees to work with Logue when he listens to the recording and discovers that his speech is perfect.
Although there are obviously class differences between Bertie and Logue, who is an Australian immigrant and the son of a brewer, the pair develop a close friendship. Logue insists on addressing Bertie by his informal nickname instead of “Your Royal Highness” and, while he is discreet about his royal patient, refuses to grant him special treatment. Because they are treat each other with mutual respect, the pair grow to become true friends, a phenomenon that Bertie has never experienced.
Through their experiences together, Logue is able to discern the origins of Bertie’s speech problems. Through conversation that is obviously painful for Bertie, he discovers Bertie’s childhood mistreatments, physical and emotional abuse by his nannies and sibling rivalries between his brothers that have affected his speech.
Firth expertly depicts the mannerisms and affected speech of a long-time stammerer. He is a complex character who is proud but insecure, elitist but very much alone and stubborn but willing to accept the help of a commoner out of desperation.
While Bertie struggles to overcome his speech impediment, he and his family struggle to convince his brother, Edward, who is to be king when their father dies, to give up his relationship with a twice-divorced American woman, Mrs. Simpson, who does not have the approval of the royal family or the British Parliament.
When their father dies, his last words are about Bertie’s bravery, a sentiment he could never tell his son in person. Edward succeeds his father, becoming King Edward III, although his family and parliament quickly become frustrated by his lack of attention to the government and excessive partying.
When he refuses to give up his relationship with Mrs. Simpson, the British parliament refuses to meet, halting the government altogether and forcing Edward to abdicate the throne in favor of his younger brother, Bertie.
When Edward abdicates the throne, Bertie becomes the king of England, thrusting him even more into the limelight and increasing his speaking roles in the government. Logue continues to assist Bertie through his coronation and important speeches given to the government and his people.
The movie climaxes as Bertie prepares to address his nation when Adolf Hitler declares war on Britain: the stakes are never higher for the people of Britain and Bertie must not fail in his address to rally the people.
Bertie’s wife, Elizabeth, is ever by his side throughout the entire process and she is visibly pained by the anxiety, humiliation and self-loathing her husband feels because of his stammer. She remains with him up until the very moment he is to about to give his address to the nation. Only then does his connection with Logue and the techniques they practiced in private pay off and allow Bertie to speak flawlessly to his empire on the radio.
The real Queen Mum gave her blessing to make the film although she asked that it be made after her death because it was too painful for her to relive. What director Tom Hooper didn’t realize though was that the Queen Mum would live to be 101 years old, dying in 2002. However, considering the praise “The King’s Speech” has garnered, the movie’s release has been well worth the wait.