Film Review: “The King’s Speech”

The film “The King’s Speech” depicts the speech problem of King George VI (reign 1936-1952) and how he struggled to overcome his stammering with the help of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue. Now if you think that this is a bit of a narrow subject and that you are not too interested in the details of British royal history, allow me to proleptically warn you that you might miss one of the best films of this year.

The films begins with a public speech by Prince Albert (as was his name before he became King George VI) which is severely marred by his strong stammering. This opening scene already provides a taste of the very visible pain that this speech impediment causes to the Prince and to his (ever supportive) wife. The portrayal of King George VI as a very likeable person is aided by the contrast of the rest of the Royal Family who are unsupportive to mean, cold-hearted to selfish.

His wife finds the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, who doesn’t think much of protocol and is not burdened by any sense of unnecessary respect: “Then your hubby should pop by”, he tells the Prince’s wife. The future king and the therapist get off to a rocky start, but over time develop a relationship of trust and mutual respect. The king visibly enjoys the friendship of “the first commoner I ever really got to know”, while Mr Logue tries to hide the honour he feels for being entrusted with the task of brushing up the speech of the head of state. Their witty and at times sharp exchanges provide the film with a good tempo and add a perfectly dosed amount of humour into this drama. Just one example: After the first war-time speech, King George VI tells his therapist (and by now friend) that he doesn’t know “how I will ever be able to thank you for your help.” To which Mr Logue suggests “How about knighthood?”

“Who invented this bloody radio?”

When watching a film, I am usually more interested in the story, in the dialogues, the scenery, even the music, than in the actors. But in “King’s Speech” the acting by Colin Firth as King George VI is phenomenal. When he is stammering, you can see the pain in his face in every scene, as if he was really affected by this impediment. This is one movie where superb and outstanding acting opens the viewer up to a story that he might not otherwise be too interested in, and even the most die-hard republican (like myself) will find himself rooting for the king in no time. Geoffrey Rush (of “Munich” fame) is also impressive as the speech therapist.

Politics or even history are not the main focus of this film, but if one is inclined to, one can see a sort of juxtaposition between King George VI and Adolf Hitler. The king and his family, one of them the current monarch Queen Elizabeth II as an adorable girl, are watching the news when part of a speech by Mr Hitler is broadcast but not translated. His daughters ask the king “What is he saying?” to which the king – with a slight hint of admiration – replies “I don’t know, but he seems to be saying it rather well.” – This reflects the belief (which I hear quite often from non-German speakers) that Mr Hitler was a great orator. Understanding German, I have to say that I do not share this impression at all. To me, these speeches sound rather ridiculous, pathetic and like that of a yob. – A more interesting aspect to me was the juxtaposition between radio, which in the British Empire was portrayed as the up-and-coming tool for politicians to connect to their people, whereas the Nazis were already trying to utilise moving images, most famously through Leni Riefenstahl’s films.

The former King Edward VIII visiting a friend.

On the history leading up to World War II, the film can be accused of being a bit distortive of historical reality: King Edward VIII, King George VI’s older brother who abdicated less than one year into his reign to get married to an American divorcee, is shown as a selfish and unappealing character. However, the films makes no mentioning of the Duke of Windsor’s (as the title of King Edward VIII was after his abdication) visit to Nazi-Germany in 1937, during which he and his wife met with Adolf Hitler, and of his sympathies for Germany which he expressed after the Nazis’ rise to power. – The other figure who gets off the hook too easily is Winston Churchill who in the film supports George VI against his brother. In reality, Mr Churchill was a vocal supporter of King Edward VIII during the abdication crisis; not one of Mr Churchill’s finest hours.

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Films, History, UK, World War II and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Film Review: “The King’s Speech”

  1. John Erickson says:

    I think part of the non-German fascination with Hitler’s speeches is the visual vs. audio point you mention, of the Germans’ use of film as opposed to the Allied use of radio. Film was still something of a novelty, and at least on the American side, President Roosevelt limited and choreographed his film appearances to downplay his handicap. On film, without understanding the rather banal and sometimes borderline-incoherent ramblings of Hitler, he does present a forceful, energetic appearance, and a self-assured one at that. Churchill’s radio addresses can sound (to the American ear, at least) to be somewhat mumbled, and FDR did have a distinct upper-class East Coast accent which didn’t always go over well in the conservative American heartland.
    It is also a pity that the film doesn’t cover Edward VIII’s pro-Nazi and pro-appeasement stance. His influence helped push on Neville Chamberlain’s own tactic of appeasing Hitler, and gave the Nazi government a certain air of legitimacy at a point when war might possibly have been avoided. Nevertheless, I plan on seeing this movie (whenever it gets into my little corner of nowhere), and look forward to whatever background information might accompany the DVD release.
    Thank you, Andreas, for a great article and review!

  2. It is a great movie indeed. I really enjoyed it and I think Colin Firth’s act is admirable.
    As a non German speaker I still believe that the way Hitler was giving a speeches was very strong and effective and it certainly brings your concentration to it and makes you listen to it which I think is a talent for a leader. He might just say some rubbish but he was saying it rather well!

  3. chetna says:

    Yes, I agree. It is one those few films where the acting dominates your experience of the film. Colin Firth was amazing.

  4. reynard61 says:

    That Hitler-greets-The-Windsors photo kind of reminds me of this infamous pic: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB82/handshake300.jpg

  5. Genki Jason says:

    Film critics in the UK have pointed out that the film dances past the issue of Edward VIII and the Nazi party (apart from mentioning of the German ambassador sending flowers) but it doesn’t detract from what is a very good film and I quite agree that Firth gives a brilliant performance.

  6. CMrok93 says:

    A well crafted piece of entertainment built around a couple of flashy but engaging performances from Firth and Geoffrey Rush. Good review, check out mine when you can!

  7. Pingback: “Munich” in Malta | The Happy Hermit – Andreas Moser's Blog

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