On Monday evening DH and I went to see The King’s Speech. I can really recommend it. As many of you will know, it’s based on the true story of King George VI, the father of our present Queen here in Britain. Bertie, as he was known to his family and friends, was a very repressed man who’d been treated as a child with indifference and contempt by his aristocratic parents. That wasn’t at all unusual in the upper classes at that time, but the Royal Family was an extreme example. While care and praise was lavished on his older brother, the heir to the throne, Bertie and his epileptic younger brother were regarded as an embarrassment.
Bertie’s main difficulty was a crippling stammer which made public speaking an ordeal for him. This became critical to the destiny of the nation when, after his brother’s abdication in 1936, he reluctantly became King. WIth war looming, it was absolutely essential that he was able to lead the nation and thanks to the then-new technology of broadcasting, that meant giving very high-profile speeches.
After numerous failed attempts to cure his impediment, his wife discovered an unconventional speech therapist called Lionel Logue. Logue was Australian and didn’t know the meaning of formality: Bertie, Duke of York, would have made the Lord High President of Gallifrey look like a stoned hippie, such was his addiction to protocol. The two men couldn’t have been more different. Logue insisted on calling him Bertie, forbade him to smoke in his presence (Bertie was a chain smoker), bet him a shilling he could cure him, ordered him around, bore the brunt of Bertie’s terrifying temper and got him singing and swearing copiously in his office to chip away at a lifetime of repression. And it worked – not without some setbacks and outbursts, but gradually the two of them developed a remarkable and unlikely friendship. The portrayal of this relationship in the movie is incredibly moving and ultimately inspiring. It is also brilliantly acted, with fine support from Helena Bonham Carter as Bertie’s wife (later, of course, the Queen Mother), Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop of Canterbury and Michael Gambon as George V. But acting honours go above all to Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. They are, quite simply, superb.
This is an old-fashioned movie in the best sense of the world. It takes us inside a vanished generation and values that seem very alien today, but as Obama has just demonstrated, there continues to be a place for oratory to inspire us to keep the faith and to be the best that we can be in difficult times. And all of us have to face our deepest fears, fortunately not all as publicly as Bertie and with slightly lower stakes. This is a story that is both personal and political, and you’d be lucky to see a better portrait of a friendship in the cinema this year.