J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

The King’s Speech

Posted by J on January 17, 2011

The King’s Speech is about as good as movies can get.  It’s a traditional narrative, but it’s also visually interesting.  It’s about quiet human problems, the conflict in it is minimal, there are no flashy scenes, and yet it’s deeply affecting.

One can hardly imagine how this movie got made.  The initial meeting to pitch the movie could not have gone well. “We’re going to do a movie about a member of the British royalty who stutters.”  “So what’s the conflict?” “Um, well, the stuttering is the conflict.  He needs to learn to speak well.”  And yet the fact that this movie is so darned good is proof that just about anything can be made into a story.

The problem is really that simple. The Duke of York, Elizabeth II’s father, needs speech therapy.  He cannot speak in public, and he rarely speaks well in private.  But the British monarchy, during the days of radio, is becoming increasing public.  As the Duke knows, he must be a kind of actor, able to deliver a rousing speech that will promote the right feelings.  The need to be an actor is pressing, in fact, since the Duke’s Brother will be (and eventually is) a problem king.  As we know, Edward VIII abdicated his throne to marry an American divorcee.  This abdication gave the Duke of York, thereafter King George VI, the crown.

The problem is complicated by the failure of numerous speech therapists to improve the Duke’s speech.  Persistent, the Duke’s wife rings up Lionel Logue, a native Australian who has advertised his services in the cheap Sunday papers.  Logue is respectful of the royal family, but he asks for “complete equality” in his studio.  Such equality is part of the therapy.

The relationship between Logue and the Duke lasts for years.  Lesser movies would’ve treated it with cliches.  You might expect the Duke to learn his lesson, that commoners like Logue are people too, that the Duke should learn to be democratic, that the Duke’s snobby elitism is a high sin.  But there’s nearly none of this here.  The two men become good friends and respect the other’s social status and abilities.  There is no monarchy bashing here; in fact, just the opposite, in recognition that all societies need good, honorable elites as figureheads.  Logue, meanwhile, gets his own praise.  His therapy works pretty well.  Yet he is not credentialed; while the Duke calls him “Doctor,” he is no doctor.  This is an issue later on in the film, but by that point we see that Logue is successful because of intelligence and practical experience.  The movie strongly argues against credentials as means to determine what works and who is good.

This is probably one of the best movies about friendship you will ever see.  It may be also one of the best about kingship and royalty.  The excellence of The King’s Speech is demonstrated by a scene that seems like a throwaway.  Early on, Logue goes to audition for the part of Richard III in Shakespeare’s play.  He begins to recite the famous “winter of discontent” speech, but is quickly stopped after a minute.  The director tells him that he is not kingly, and that his Australian accent is in the way.  Logue cannot be a competent actor, nor can he act the part of the king.  But he can teach a king how to act and how to speak.

Entertainment: 10

Intelligence: 9

Morality: 10

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One Response to “The King’s Speech”

  1. […] The King’s Speech – Out of this batch, it’s the most likely to be considered an all-timer.  Every person […]

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