By Nick Maylor
Having faces on money is an ancient tradition. Here in Canada, there has only been one face on the back of our coins for my entire lifetime, and that of my mother; Queen Elizabeth II. It’s just a reality of being Canadian. That’s the face on every coin (and a few paper notes). I remember being about five in a McDonald’s holding on to a penny and the face was different. It was a man. It was King George VI, Elizabeth’s father. Presuming the Queen does not die for at least another 2 decades (reasonable), I will see that huge change on the money for the first time.
My parents are English-born and the Royal Family has always been a fascination for my mother, even after all these years in Canada. I hear talk of royal weddings and such…
While I am opposed to hereditary monarchies in principle, I do have a certain amount of respect for the current monarch and other members of her family. The story of Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George (or “Bertie” as his family called him) as portrayed in Tom Hooper’s film is compelling to no end. A man thrust into a massively tasking position he never wanted and wasn’t ready for, Prince Albert tries desperately to overcome a debilitating speech impediment as he tries to unite a nation in turmoil in the years leading up to the second world war.
Colin Firth delivers a brilliant performance that is supported by a rich and talented cast of supporting players. Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall and Michael Gambon all deliver their A-game on a whip-smart script that, while not shy in taking some historical liberties, delivers an inspiring and affecting tale of perseverance and friendship.
I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never had to deal with the kind of disadvantage of not being able to speak. Usually, getting me to shut up is the much more pressing concern. I do however have a childhood friend who still deals with a slight stammer. I’ve also had considerable vocal training (I’m a wiz at tongue-twisters) and seeing the antiquated methods employed during the onset of Bertie’s journey made me face-palm. Shoving marbles into someone’s mouth and forcing them to speak? Also make sure to smoke lots of cigarettes. The film goes on to explore the underlying interpersonal and psychological issues that cause speech impediments.
Bertie is berated by his father King George V (Michael Gambon) for not being able to deliver radio addresses properly. Bertie’s brother David (Guy Pearce) is the heir to the throne but even before he ascends to the throne, King George warns Bertie that David will not last on the throne, leaving Bertie to pick up the pieces. He had better learn to speak. As the King points out, technology has made them into the lowest of all creatures: actors.
David becomes King, wants to marry an American divorcee and eventually abdicates, leaving Bertie to take the mantle of King. His need to overcome his stammer now paramount, he becomes more and more desperate.
Bertie’s wife Princess Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) secretly visits with an Australian stage actor and elocution specialist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). The quirky Aussie (unaware of whom he is speaking to) casually denies the Princess (going by an alias) by not playing by her rules. Logue is hired on the spot and told exactly what the story is.
The developing friendship between the monarch and his elocution couch (whom he erroneously calls “doctor”) is the film’s charm. Lionel and Bertie slowly develop a mutual respect and friendship as they work on the mechanics of the would-be King’s speech impediment. Logue, however, warns Bertie that this will only deal with the surface of the problem as stammers are often rooted in childhood psychological issues. Bertie is naturally left-handed but forced to use his right (another antiquated method for dealing with his problems). As Bertie ascends to the thrown after his brother’s abdication, he prepares for war with Germany which is looming on the horizon. While taking certain liberties with the historical facts (Logue never actually referred to King George by the name “Bertie”), the film is an inspiration tale of perseverance and overcoming the odds. Anyone who has dealt with a psychological or physical impediment should be able to find resonance within the film. It is weighted in its charming script, straightforward execution, lovely cinematography and impeccable acting from its stellar cast.
At the 83rd Academy Awards The King’s Speech won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director (Hooper), Best Actor (Firth), and Best Original Screenplay (Seidler). The film received nominations for Best Cinematography (Danny Cohen) and two for the supporting actors (Bonham Carter and Rush), Art Direction and Costumes.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor