I avoided watching The King’s Speech for one very simple, if vain reason–I suspect that my wife would leave me for Colin Firth in an instant if he were to appear on our doorstep. From time to time during the viewing last week I glanced in her direction, just to confirm my suspicions.
Oh yeah. I was right.
But the movie was so good that I could barely muster up the ego to feel threatened. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a movie this much from minute-to-minute.
If you are one of the few who have not seen it yet, I’ll give you a quick recap.
Summary of The King’s Speech
Let me preface this by saying my own knowledge about the royals is wanting. I’ll be reviewing the movie on how well I enjoyed the movie, not on its historical validity. If you want the other side of the story, I’d suggest reading the inimitable Christopher Hitchens’ review of its “gross historical falsifications.”
In the year’s leading up to World War II, the royal family is having some challenges. King George is winding down and his sons Edward and Albert are getting close to the throne. Edward winds up taking the throne, then abdicating it so he can marry an American woman who has been divorced a few times. Scandal!!!
This means that Albert is next in line. The problem is that Albert (played by Colin Firth) has been fighting a horrible stammer for as long as he can remember. One of the movie’s opening scenes shows him staring down at a microphone, getting words out when he can, as the whole of the empire listens. For years he has been able to spare himself a reasonable amount of embarrassment because radio had not been invented yet.
Suddenly, kings are expected to be heard. And not only heard–well-spoken, authoritative, and of course, with formidable diction. I throw in that last because this is a movie with Geoffrey Rush and Michael Gambon in it. To hear them speak is to realize that you yourself speak as if you have a mouthful of oatmeal and rocks.
When Prince Albert speaks, it is a tortuous affair, more silences and throat clearings than words. Watching him try to get through a few simple sentences is rough. Did you see Pan’s Labyrinth? Do you remember the scene where that hideous military guy told that poor man that he would spare him considerable torment if he could count to a certain number without stuttering?
I found Albert’s early attempts at public address every bit as uncomfortable, because it is obviously such an embarrassment for him. But unlike his brother, he is duty-bound and doesn’t try to get out of it.
At the core of the movie is his relationship with an “unqualified” speech therapist named Lionel, played by Geoffry Rush. Lionel is an Australian whose attitude toward the monarchy is probably pretty close to how most Australians were feeling about the UK at the time.
He does not have any letters after his name. He is not a doctor. On paper he is “unqualified.” But his methods work and he doesn’t shrink when his credibility is questioned.
The climax of the movie is the speech that Albert must deliver via radio to announce that England is at war with Germany. By this point his anxieties have been shown so beautifully and meticulously that when an aide tells him “It runs approximately 9 minutes,” I shivered because I knew this was his worst-case scenario.
You’ve probably heard that it is many, many people’s worst fear. I’ve always loved it, but for whatever reason I’ve never been scared of it. I dated a girl who said she would rather die than talk in front of even a small group. And while she might have chosen differently if someone had actually given her the ultimatum, I suspect she might have taken the speaking opportunity.
But the fear was real. I could tell when she spoke about it. And she wasn’t required to address a country via a new medium that exposed every single flaw that she was typically able to mask by being a “quiet sort.”
A fantastic movie that I enjoyed every minute of. It’s funny, it looks great, and alleged gross historical falsifications aside, it tells a great story.
Agree? Disagree? Are any of you readers terrified of speaking in public?