Something for the weekend: the King’s speech

By Lisa Marie Griffith

The King’s Speech is released today and getting promising reviews. The film has received seven nominations for the Golden Globes with Colin Firth receving some glowing comments for his performance. The plot focuses on George VI (Colin Firth) who takes the throne after his brother, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), abdicates to marry his divorcee girlfriend Wallace Simpson. Not expecting to inherit the throne, George VI suffered with a bad speech impediment and the story focuses on his battle to overcome this. The trailer for the film can be viewed here. We would like to hear what you think if you go to view the film and comments can be posted below.


9 Responses to “Something for the weekend: the King’s speech”

  1. puesoccurrences Says:

    I saw this at the weekend and it is very good- a total feel good film and not very subtle but enjoyable.

  2. patrick maume Says:

    Colin Firth’s performance was pretty good, though I thought he was too old compared to Guy Pearce (who was a more convincing Edward VIII than I expected from the reviews).
    Two big liberties with history:
    (a) Winston Churchill was presented as telling the future George VI during the Abdication Crisis that Edward VIII’s irresponsibility and pro-Nazi sympathies made him unsuitable to be the symbol of national unity in the grim times ahead, and that he (George/Bertie) would make a better king. In fact, Churchill vehemently and publicly opposed the abdication and called for Edward to remain on the throne. Obviously this is a bit of dramatic simplification for the benefit of American audiences, who would expect Churchill to always have been on the side of the angels. (For the same reason, Hell will freeze over before we see a film about Churchill which incorporates his leadership of the Tory Diehard opposition to the creation of elected provincial governments in India in the mid-1930s.)
    (b) By skipping from Stanley Baldwin’s resignation to the declaration of war in 1939, with only a few passing references to Neville Chamberlain, the film glosses over the royals’ support for the Munich Agreement which was seen by its opponents as going beyond the bounds of constitutional propriety (although, to be fair, it was in tune with majority public opinion in 1938 which was anxious to avoid war if at all possible – it is worth bearing in mind that George fought as a naval officer at the Battle of Jutland and Elizabeth’s favourite brother died on the Western Front.) Again, this is a piece of dramatic licence to avoid complicating the picture’s emphasis on the king’s later role as a symbol of wartime resistance to Hitler.

    I must say it lends a whole new resonance to a banner I once saw at an Orange procession in Belfast, which showed George VI seated in front of a radio microphone with an extract from one of his wartime speeches.

    A contributor to the DAILY TELEGRAPH blog page links to sound files of George’s 1939 radio speech and Edward VIII’s abdication broadcast, showing how much more fluent the latter was as a speaker.

  3. Brian Hanley Says:

    Anyone notice that the ‘Stand by our King: God Save our King’ posters shown at one point were produced by The Blackshirt, the newspaper of the British Union of Fascists? The BUF were very active in support of Edward during the abdication crisis, so the posters were a nice touch, though I suspect most people won’t read the small print. (The fact that I did may say too much about me).

  4. Juliana Says:

    I went to see this over the weekend and was generally impressed. It’s not a period of history that I’m at all expert in, so I’m not sure I have too much to add on critical points. The simplifications that Patrick has pointed to definitely work in favour of plot and I think he is dead right about no chance of a film associating Churchill with anything other than angels for many years to come. I wondered about the Lionel Logue character and about the idea that he demanded such a level of personal intimacy with the prince/king. And the film implies that he is every so slightly anti-royal. Wondered if this is true or a product of current attitudes.

    Also, I distinctly recall being made aware (when? how?) of Edward’s association with the Nazis. At least in vague American consciousness, Edward is definitely a ‘baddie’. Nevermind that he married an American. My German companion, however, had never heard of this. I thought for a moment that I had made it up, until I googled and found the picture I distinctly recalled of the newly married Duke and Duchess of Windsor meeting Adolf Hitler. This was of course before the outbreak of WWII and gives some idea of how much the film foreshortened. There is barely a pause between George VI assuming the throne and the war, when in fact this is a period of 3 years.

    Strongly recommended, though!

  5. patrick maume Says:

    I did notice the posters. I think the real-life posters had “BUF” rather than “Blackshirt” on them; presumably the change was meant to make it apparent that they were produced by a fascist group.
    One newspaper article which I saw about the film said that the original script featured a scene of the Duke and Duchess visiting Hitler, but this was dropped in the interests of streamlining.

  6. patrick maume Says:
    This is an interesting comment (from a GUARDIANISTA) on the film and how it reflects the British sense of their past as defined by the conflict with Nazism, and of the problems which the image of the monarchy/royal family (and particularly Queen Elizabeth II, who is portrayed in the film as a young girl) as encapsulating Britain’s historic identity militates against the development of British republicanism. (Mr freedland is amongst other things the author of a book, BRING HOME THE REVOLUTION, which argues that the Americans have preserved more of the seventeenth and eighteenth-century British radical tradition than have the British themselves.)

    For all that, the emotional core of the film lies elsewhere, specifically with the second world war. If the king were only rehearsing for his coronation, we would hardly care. That he is preparing to address the nation on the outbreak of war is what gives the story its moral force. As such, The King’s Speech is confirmation that the last war has now become our nation’s defining narrative, almost its creation myth. What 1789 is to the French, what 1776 is to the Americans, 1940 is to the Brits – our finest hour when we stood alone against the Nazi menace. This is the period our children study in school; all history before, including that of empire, is increasingly hazy. When we nominate our greatest Briton, we choose Winston Churchill…

    There is a minor problem with that last bit, by the way. I remember at the time that it was generally agreed that Churchill won the Greatest Britons poll because of a last-minute wave of votes by American admirers of his – if left to themselves, the British would have chosen Isambard Kindom Brunel or Princess Diana.

  7. Juliana Says:

    Thanks for that, Patrick. A really interesting article, well worth a read. To clarify, the second paragraph of your comment beginning ‘For all that…’ should be in quotes and is a quote from the article.

    I’m not sure I agree with Freedland on the roots of American fascination with the royal family. I suspect it really is the exotic nature of it that appeals, not some sense of superiority we get out of thinking that America is a perfect democracy without class. No one with half a brain believes that. But we do find it intensely puzzling what British society exactly gets out of having a queen. Or at least, I do.


  8. Brian Hanley Says:

    A further complication to the story told by the movie is that George seems to shared what were common views among the British elite in 1939, but which have been glossed over since the war. According to papers released in 2002
    ‘In the spring of 1939 George VI instructed his private secretary to write to Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax. Having learnt that ‘a number of Jewish refugees from different countries were surreptitiously getting into Palestine’, the King was ‘glad to think that steps are being taken to prevent these people leaving their country of origin.’ Halifax’s office telegraphed Britain’s ambassador in Berlin asking him to encourage the German government ‘to check the unauthorised emigration’ of Jews.’
    Any consideration of that might have lessened the viewers sympathy over struggling with his stutter.

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