The King's Speech

They say silence is deafening. And it can be. But perhaps even worse is an echo, viciously and loudly repeating every one of your stumbles and stammers. Such is the viciousness Prince Albert/King George VI (Colin Firth) must learn to inure as he delivers speeches, first as prince and then as king. Or so it seems. With the help of a caring wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), and an eccentric and effective speech whisperer of sorts, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), he makes friends with the microphone and, ultimately leads his nation through World War II.

If that sounds like it doesn’t exactly make for a thrilling movie, you’re partially right. It’s not thrilling. But, it’s a solid film with terrific performances from its three leads. The King’s Speech is inspiring (which is why it’s such a shame it’s rated R) and also speaks to the implications of our ever changing technology. (More on both of those points in a moment.)

The King’s Speech takes us through Prince Albert’s journey from stuttering young Bertie in 1925, the son of King George V (who delights in making his children frightened of him) to his triumphant ascension to the throne when, in 1939, he addresses the nation of England on the eve of war. Throughout, Helena Bonham Carter is both tender and devilishly funny and playful as Bertie’s loving wife. (Still love her from Fight Club!) Elizabeth is the one, in fact, who finds Logue.

Logue, an Australian (which makes for some funny British-rulers/Aussie-criminals jokes) is a colorful character. Admittedly not a doctor and without training, he is the only person able to get through to the prince. This is mostly because Logue understands that the prince’s speech impediment is more psychological than physical. Logue has figured out that when Bertie speaks with conviction – notably, when he is angry and cares more about being heard (i.e., getting across his point) than talking – he speaks with perfect elocution. This is made abundantly clear in a number of exercises, most enjoyably when Logue has the prince go on a cursing tirade, just to prove he can speak without stammering. As this would-be speech pathologist, Geoffrey Rush is terrific. He brings just the right balance this role needs in order to work: A mix of knavish mischief and believable gravitas. In lesser hands, Logue may seem either entirely foolish or entirely priggish; with Rush handling the role, Logue is a lovable rogue.

Colin Firth (looking dashing, as always) is spectacular as King George VI. He does a good (and respectful) job of putting on the stutter – it sounds natural, and not a bit lampoonish. There is so much we see in the prince/king because Firth brings such verisimilitude to the role. Bertie is deflated by his impediment and wants so badly to be able to communicate with people – even with his children – just like everybody else. There is an awful sadness in his eyes when he is unable to read aloud to his daughters, the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. We also get to see him being tender and playful with his wife, speaking to her – the one person (besides Logue) who doesn’t judge him – with ease. And there is a brilliant moment just before the king’s big speech. The look on Firth’s face begins as utter dread but as he walks down the corridor to the “recording booth,” his back straightens, his shoulders un-hunch and a look of resolve takes over his face. He is strong. He is in charge. He is the king and he’s going to make a speech.

It is this triumphant moment that is so inspiring. And it’s a shame that some young teens may not be able to see it (or able to easily see it) because the MPAA doesn’t like the fact that the prince curses. Let’s be frank: Anyone under the age of 17 who wants to see this, who might actually get it and appreciate watching someone in power overcome adversity, isn’t going to go on a cursing tirade because they saw it in a movie. Any twerp who would do that is probably not going to see this film. There’s some mature 14 year old stutterer out there who would benefit from seeing this well crafted film but because The King’s Speech goes over it’s F-bomb quota, it received an R rating, making it more difficult for teens under 17 to see it. And there’s absolutely no sex or violence, and no theme so mature that it’s out of the intellectual comprehension of young people. (Meanwhile, as I bemoaned on Friday, before The King’s Speech, a preview for True Grit played. Once again, this is a movie whose plot revolves around a young girl seeking mortal revenge against the man who killed her father. The trailer is full of guns and gunshots. Remarkably, this only earns a PG-13 rating.)

And as for this film’s modern relevance, The King’s Speech and the king’s trouble with speech made the poli-sci part of my brain think about what technology means for our leaders. Perhaps King George VI was brilliant and actually a great leader but with the emergence and prevalence of radio, he couldn’t leave the work to his brilliant mind. He had to be able to vocally communicate his message to his people. It was no longer enough to write a moving speech – he had to deliver it. I was reminded of the lesson of the Kennedy-Nixon debate. While other politicians had been on television before, this was the first time a debate was broadcast on TV. Everyone who watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy won. (He looked young and handsome while Nixon, not even ten years older than Kennedy, looked old, haggard and washed out, sweating profusely under the lights.) Everyone who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon won. From this we can infer that Nixon had better responses but because this new medium was introduced and JFK was camera-ready, Kennedy won. We see this with today’s technology, too. With the 24-hour news cycle and sound bite reporting, President Obama’s thoughtful explanations get drowned out by the Republican’s 10-word answer. (Watch “Game On,” The West Wing, season 4. You will rue 10-word answers.) And the technology only keeps changing. What does this mean for today’s leaders and those of the future? Will the best minds and most effective answers be eschewed for the best quips disguising utterly ineffective policy? What do you think? Is technology making the political landscape harder or easier to navigate? Does it matter?

Will tweets one day replace a king’s rousing speech? God save the king
and his speech!

(Bonus Speech: "The King's Tongue Twisters," from the New York Times magazine, takes a look at the tongue twisters and techniques used to help Bertie overcome his stutter.)


  1. Kudos to you for your comments about the absurd rating system in place. I couldn't imagine why The King's Speech had an R rating until you explained it. Unbelievable!!


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