December 24, 2010, - 1:25 pm

Movie of the Year: “The King’s Speech”

By Debbie Schlussel

There have been few great–or even just good–movies, this year.  But the ones that are great are truly great.  And that’s definitely the case with “The King’s Speech.”  I just loved this movie, and it’s one of the few to which I’ve ever given FOUR REAGANS PLUS.  It’s that good.  The movie is a great contrast between the waste-of-space English royal family of today and their recent ancestors, who were figures of decency and selfless defense of the West.

Don’t let the “R” rating on this movie fool you.  You can take your young teens–and I’d even take young kids–to see it.  The “R” is for one scene (well, maybe, one-and-a-half scenes) in which the King of England, magnificently played by Colin Firth, repeatedly swears and utters the t-word.  It’s all because the King stutters, and he’s engaged in all kinds of exercises to try to overcome it.

And that’s the premise of the movie:  that King George VI of England must overcome his deep stutter to rally the people of the United Kingdom together against the Nazis in World War II.  But the movie is much more than that.  It’s the story of a blue-blood royal and his friendship with a classy but poor commoner, a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) who helps him overcome it.  And it’s about overcoming obstacles for the good of the world, for noble reasons.  It’s about facing handicaps and challenges to do what’s right.  Also not far from the forefront is the underlying story of the abdication of the throne by George VI’s brother, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce, who trades his Australian accent in for a British one, here).

The movie begins with King George as a mere prince, Prince Albert.  His father is King of England, and he isn’t the favored son.   The favored son is his older brother, Prince Edward, who is set to become King.  Albert a/k/a “Bertie” makes a speech at Wembley Stadium, or at least, he tries.  But his stutter and lack of confidence are so great, he just can’t do it.  It’s a shame, an embarrassment.  His wife,  Princess Elizabeth, is embarrassed for him, as are all of Britain’s citizens, listening to the screw-up on live radio in their living rooms.

So, Elizabeth, has a solution.  She takes her Prince to various doctors to help him overcome his stutter.  None of their quackery–including speaking with rocks in his mouth–works.  Desperate to help her husband overcome  his embarrassment, as it even gets in the way of bedtime stories for the kids (who include the future Queen Elizabeth of the present day), Elizabeth approaches an unorthodox speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Rush), whose methods are neither conventional nor accepted.  And Logue, to his credit, doesn’t compromise his technique for royalty.  He refuses to change his methods in any way.

Soon, the Prince is attending the regular sessions, undercover and posing as a commoner, at Logue’s shabby office.  He finds them frustrating.  There are fights, there are break-ups, and there are re-unifications between the Prince and his working-class speech therapist.  And there is a budding friendship, the bounds and struggles of which are well defined and portrayed in a terrific manner in this movie.  It’s really about the kinship of men in spite of class and other differences, something few movies capture as well as this one.

As we know because of history, King Edward VIII is a playboy who takes up with a divorced American socialite, Wallis Simpson, and gives up the throne to be with her.  So, it’s hardly a spoiler to say this is a prominent, underlying sub-plot to the movie.  Without that happening, there would be no story here.  But because it did happen, Prince Albert and Princess Elizabeth become King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (I don’t know which number comes after her name and it’s not relevant to me).  And that’s the story here.

A man who isn’t typically confident, who stutters still, is now King of England, and he still must overcome his disability.  The Nazis have marched forward throughout Europe.  Winston Churchill–one of the best Churchills I’ve ever seen, Timothy Spall–is now Prime Minister.  And Britain, as part of the Allies, must respond to the Nazis, not just with air strikes and ground war, but with the psychological national unity and solidarity of the people of the United Kingdom.  It is up to King George/”Bertie” to “marshal the troops” in speeches, live speeches on the air.  Can he overcome his speech impediment and do it?  Will he be able to sort out the class divisions that result in his contentious arguments with Logue?  The resolve of the people of Great Britain against the Nazis depends on it.

It’s such a terrific history lesson and basis for discussion and learning for yourself and your whole family, occasional, brief swear words aside.  And, as I said, it’s not just about history, but about relationships, about male kinship, and about sacrifice for your country and its survival.  It’s about stepping up the role G-d has given you, the one for which you’ve been called.

If there’s one thing I didn’t like about this movie, it’s the scene of King George VI crying in despair about his stutter.  I really didn’t need to see a grown man–let alone a moral leader for the West–shedding tears like a girlie-man.  And I wonder whether there’s any real-life documentation of him ever crying.  I’d bet against it.

Still, despite that, while watching this movie, you can’t help but contrast the bravery and class, the dignity and poise, of King George VI of England, the protagonist of the movie and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, with the  sleaziness of their real-life Islamo-pandering grandson, Prince Charles, who famously wished to be Camilla Parker Bowles’ tampon.  It’s amazing how far a great family can fall in just two generations.  Moreover, King George VI’s importance in supporting the West’s efforts in World War II contrasts greatly with all the current hype surrounding Prince Williams’ marriage to Kate Middleton.  Their “accomplishments” in helping the West, in contrast, are confined to keeping the cross-continental staffs of OK, People, and US Magazines employed.

Yet all of these modern-day royals have giant staffs, retinues, and entourages, something this movie makes clear simply wasn’t the case for the modest-but-far-greater figures of that day.  And, notably, in this movie, Firth as King George VI makes clear that as a King, he has no power and is merely a figurehead.  He understands his importance as the occupant of the bully pulpit seizing the moral high ground at a time when it is necessary.  But he humbly understates his importance.  That’s in sharp contrast to today’s British royals who really do confine themselves to figurehead positions, thankfully so.  Yet, they exaggerate their importance, when they are basically just partying ignoramuses on British national welfare (albeit with a far larger welfare check than the rest of Brits on welfare).

Not only is this an enjoyable and entertaining movie, it’s funny.  It’s got a lot of that great British dry humor.  And it has great acting all around, which is why, as a member of the Detroit Film Critics Society, I voted for Firth, Bonham Carter, and Rush for my choices as this year’s top actors and picked this movie as the year’s best.  It’s a truly great ensemble cast, a terrific script, and everything else about it is top notch–from cinematography to costumes.

Even though this year was plagued by a sub-mediocre “selection” of films, this one would be tops in any year.  Take yourself and your family to see it and enjoy what it was like when royalty was truly great and men truly rose to the occasion with courage and fortitude.  The ending brought a tear to my eye.  It’s that good a movie.

FOUR REAGANS PLUS
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28 Responses

I am seeing it tomorrow at 11 am, first showing.

I can’t wait!!

As goes Israel, so goes the World... on December 24, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    I hit the first showing Christmas Day hoping to avoid the crowds. Not! The theatre delayed the film until the entire line was seated.

    Lots of rude popcorn smackers! When did America lose her manners? Or, are manners merely extended to third-world freak invaders? We are surrounded – our country given-away for PC panderers. We don’t you these freaks everywhere we go…

    Nevertheless, the film was GREAT.

    As goes Israel, so goes the World... on December 27, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I suspected I Would like it. The greatest people have shortcomings and they work hard to overcome them. I think George V’s crying was a cry of pain…it humanizes him and is in contrast to the shallow crying of today’s men, which IS an embarrassment. I would add I would never want to be king in today’s world… a man cannot exercise a role without real power and real responsibility. The ceremony behind constitutional monarchy once was real and today it means nothing. George VI was extraordinary and his descendants don’t simply measure up.

This film deserves its four Reagans aBest Picture Of The Year.

NormanF on December 24, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Normy:

    I sincerely DOUBT he sobbed like a Nancy Girl. Don’t let his stutter throw you off. He had a spine of steel.

    As goes Israel, so goes the World... on December 27, 2010 at 12:41 pm

The other contrast between George VI and Edward VIII was this: Edward, as events developed at the time (and as we all know now), was also a Nazi sympathizer and fifth-column collaborationist who was justifiably shunned by Britain for his treason and sedition – and lived out the rest of his life as the Duke of Windsor. Their attitude towards Edward also contrasts with what Debbie pointed out about schmuck Prince Charles’ craven Islamo-pandering, and how apparently to the royals (and everyone else) it’s “no big deal.”

CP: I did not know that. Very interesting. DS

ConcernedPatriot on December 24, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    There’s Belgium’s King Leopold III, who was forced to abdicate after a long controversy over his marriage to an English commoner and over his decision to surrender the country to Nazi Germany after its defeat in World War II. Not all monarchs have won national esteem and most of them are justly forgettable.

    NormanF on December 24, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Loved your critique but for the “If there’s one thing I didn’t like about this movie, it’s the scene of King George VI crying in despair about his stutter.” I do not stutter but for ANYONE, I would imagine it to be quite frustrating and for a “moral leader” who has to give speeches, I would imagine this would eventually frustrate the man to tears literally. Documented or not. I wear hearing aids for nearly 40 years now. I can assure you at times, it is frustrating to not hear what your child or wife says. Peace!

Robert on December 24, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Robert… being severely hearing impaired myself… people don’t know how much it affects you. I don’t think a condition like stutter is easy to live with. People who love you know how much you compensate for your physical defects and they love you even if you don’t hear everything they say. It takes an extraordinary person to have the strength and fortitude to put up with someone who will never be completely “normal.”

    And I have a feeling I’ll find someone who understands me as much as your wife and children do! I think they appreciate you more than you know.

    NormanF on December 24, 2010 at 4:34 pm

wow! I am already fired up!

Mats on December 24, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I am a Canadian and I have no use for King George V and the British Empire. They prevented Jews to escape the holocaust and they only fought the German at the last resort. They sized more land but have a hard time with Jews returning to their homeland. Think of Munich. By the way King and Queen welcomed home Chamberlain after the Munich crisis.

“The growing likelihood of war in Europe dominated the early reign of George VI. The King was constitutionally bound to support Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler. However, when the King and Queen greeted Chamberlain on his return from negotiating the Munich Agreement in 1938, they invited him to appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with them. This public association of the monarchy with a politician was exceptional, as balcony appearances were traditionally restricted to the royal family.[6]”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_VI_of_the_United_Kingdom
Boycott the British cultural industry, as they are almost universally anti-Israel (really anti-Semitic). They also have a whole bunch of trouble criticizing their royalty. I do not care that George V only had sex with 2 woman. I will take Rudy Gulliani any days with all his woman over a piece of dog dodo like King George V.

madman on December 24, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    You are not a madman. You are painfully sane.

    Occam's Tool on February 17, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Madman, there is a lot of truth to what you say about the monarchs. The only ex-British colony the Royals have never visited is Israel. Do I care about them and their philanderings, including the Queen’s sucking it up to wearing a hijab while visting the Arab World?

No I don’t. I don’t care at all.

NormanF on December 24, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Boycott the UK till they man up and visit Israel!!
Spread the word far and wide!!!

Tony on December 24, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Minor detail — George VI was Prince Albert, not Prince George.

He took the name George both to honor his father after the debacle that was his brother’s abdication, as well as to the wishes of his great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who expressed the wish that no descendant of she and her beloved husband, Prince Albert, should ever reign under that name.

RWR: You are correct, and I meant to say that his nickname in the movie was “Bertie,” for Prince Albert. Fixing. Thanks, DS

Rhymes With Right on December 24, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Tony says “Boycott the UK till they man up and visit Israel!!
Spread the word far and wide!!!”

And apologize for not saving the Jews, for appeasing fascism, for glorifying welfarism, for tolerating decay and stagnation and losing pride, etc, etc…

The only real hero here was Winston Churchill.

The Reverend Jacques on December 24, 2010 at 11:59 pm

I tend to agree with you, Reverend Jacques. The real hero of those times was Winston Churchill, and he was given scant attention in the film. Frankly, watching the film, Prince Albert did not strike me as particularly courageous, smart, stable or insightful; neither did he seem pivotal to Allied success. He was a figurehead who overcame a disability. I felt like I was watching Sean Penn’s I Am Sam again.

As for King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) who eventually abdicated, he was so narcissistic, dysfunctional, and childish in the film that I sort of wonder whether Prince Charles is his modern reincarnation. Far from convincing me that royalty of that age possessed nobler mettle, I came away with the impression that this kind of corruption of character began early and has continued relatively unabated. The film left me feeling depressed.

Burke on December 25, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Old joke from the 80′s after Prince Charles’(Islamo-panderer) wedding to Diana (Islamo-”receptacle”):

Q:Where did Prince Charles spend his honeymoon?
A:Indiana! (get it? in-Diana)

Almost as bad as being an Islamo-panderer, Charles is a rabid “global warming” proponent. That would mean, intelligence wise, he IS a tampon!

CornCoLeo on December 26, 2010 at 2:21 am

Even though it’s irrelevant, I just want to quickly mention that King George’s wife didn’t have a number after her name (Queen Elizabeth) since she was the queen consort of a king and not a reigning queen in her own right. Only regnal names are accorded numbers, if any.

anorak on December 27, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Movie is fantastic. This and “Winter’s Bone” are tops for the year. I don’t mind the image of the king crying–for a film, it’s the clearest way to portray his despair. And just imagine if your ENTIRE COUNTRY had to witness your most crippling fault time and time again en masse–you might cry, too.

Two fun trivial bits I enjoyed: Derek Jacobi, who plays the sanctimonious Archbishop, is perhaps best known to American audiences for portraying another real-life royal with a devastating stutter, Roman Emperor Claudius, waaaayy back in “I, Claudius,” still one of the best miniseries ever made. Also, Anthony Andrews (anyone else old enough to remember when he was The English Hot Dude of the Day?) turns up as Prime Minister Baldwin, and he played King Edward in a very sympathetic portrayal in an 80′s tv movie that left out all the Nazi pandering stuff. I actually thought Timothy Spall’s Churchill borderlines on caricature, with the squint, cigars, etc., although I Love Spall. Churchill is one of those Great Men of History it’s very hard to do justice to without it coming off as a bad impression. I didn’t mind the lack of focus on him–the movie is not his story, or a straight history of WWII.

maatkare on December 28, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Like the other Robert and NormanF, I too wear hearing aids and have absolutely no problem squaring the idea of a strong man with a speech impediment that breaks down and cries. Regardless of how old he is, it is tremendously frustrating and demoralizing to be unable to understand or be understood.

One of the most memorable movies scenes for me is in Mr. Holland’s Opus, where the mother of a deaf child, and the kid himself, very genuinely just lose their shit over the exhaustion and frustration that can plague every minute of existence for the deaf and their families.

Never underestimate this frustration- it has been documented that an undiagnosed hearing loss in the elderly can lead to at times heart-breaking depression.

I wouldn’t call it a disability though- it is something that a sizable number of people can completely overcome (versus compensated for or worked around). No amount of amplification or magnification will allow a person to completely overcome a hearing/vision loss beyond short periods of time. And that is with physical aids, not like therapies that equip a stutterer to improve and overcome mostly psychological (and some physical) blocks.

All that said- twas a good movie, though I so closely identify Helena Bonham Carter with bat-shit crazy roles, that I kept waiting for her to start yelling about those filthy Mudbloods (Harry Potter, for the uninitiated). Michael Gambon (who plays Dumbledore) only further distracted me. Not unlike when the reunion of Kelsey Grammar and Bebe Neuwirth distracted Debbie in FAME.

Robert on December 31, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Debbie, Happy New Year and The King’s Speech is my favorite too. Can’t believe it’s rated R while the much more racy Social Network is PG 13.

Stephen Schochet on January 1, 2011 at 8:56 pm

As an ex-pat Briton who made aliyah in 2010, I’m really looking forward to its coming up north. King George VI had greatness thrust upon him by world events and his daughter Elizabeth II has always ruled with dignity and the utmost decorum. It is not her fault that she has not visited Israel (not a former colony but mandated by the League of Nations) as she acts on the advice of the Arabist Foreign Office. She is held in great esteem by the British Jewish community.

Charles may yet rise to kingship worthiness, who knows? BTW Queen Elizabeth the late Queen Mother was queen consort not queen regnant and thus did not have a “number” as she was not the monarch.

Brian on January 9, 2011 at 4:47 am

DS… you have some of your facts incorrect. When WW2 was declared in Sept 39 it was Chamberlain who was PM then and not Churchill. George VI had to make a radio broadcast at Head of State. I thought that scene was schmaltzy with music being played over the speech. Also they did not wave to the crowds after the speech as there was an air raid warning in progress.

As for snide US comments about anti-semitism, USA had their Joe Kennedy and other assorted Nazi sympathisers at the time. And the Nixon/Kennedy/Johnson administrations didn’t mind using ex- nazis like Wernher von Braun to design the Apollo moon rockets, did they ?

Tom Stonehaven on January 23, 2011 at 3:24 pm

King George VI did not support Churchill, wanted Halifax as PM, and was an antisemite—just not as bad as his even worse brother. The Royals are fairly worthless, although George did OK later in the war.

Occam's Tool on February 17, 2011 at 10:26 pm

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