It was time for me to see the film that recalls the dark period of England’s history, the time when we were preparing to go to war with Germany for the second time in a quarter of a century. Although the film ends with the declaration of war under the kingship of George VI, it takes us back to his father’s reign, the abdication crisis of 1938 and to his own personal battle to overcome his stammer. In a world dominated by the media of film and television, it’s difficult for us to project back to a time when radio (or ‘the wireless’) was the nation’s chief source of news. The film opens with the, then, Duke of York’s live speech to the British Commonwealth at the closing of the British Empire Exhibition, and uses this occasion as the springboard for the Duchess’s (later the Queen Mother) quest to find a speech therapist to help her husband conquer his vocal problems.
We have recently embraced a resurgence of English period drama, but this film moves on from the Edwardian period (as in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs) and into the between-the-war years from 1925 until 1939. The imagery of the British Empire Exhibition and the glimpses of the BBC network that encompassed the British Commonwealth lead us conveniently into the Duchess of York’s meeting with Lionel Logue, an unorthodox speech therapist from Australia. Nearly a century later, and with the loss of most of our old empire, it is difficult to imagine how much of a reach England, and her Royal Family, had around the world. This film makes England’s dominance paramount.
The film is beautifully photographed, using stately homes as well as Royal parks, as locations. I’m sure that one of the earlier scenes, where the Duchess takes a taxi through a pea-souper, will appeal to those filmgoers abroad that wish to believe that London is still cloaked with fog. Additionally the attention to period costumes is a fashion watchers delight. More than anything else we are reminded of the stilted Received Pronunciation that was prevalent amongst the upper classes and obligatory for BBC presenters. The King’s Speech is not concerned with the lower classes as were the programmes mentioned above, although a clash of social groups occurs when the Duke and Logue fall into dispute. However this is later surmounted when the postscript at the end of the film informs us that the King and Queen remained lifelong friends with the Logues.
This is a piece of cinema that reminds us of our past, hints at England’s struggles during World War II, but also pinpoints the private struggle of a very public person to overcome a speech defect. Several times during the film we see a young Princess Elizabeth (later to become Queen Elizabeth II on her father’s early death in 1952) and this serves as a reminder that she is still on the throne and was an observer to the events portrayed in the film. Additionally there are several perfect cameo roles to support Colin Firth’s Duke of York/King George VI and Helena Bonham Carter’s Duchess of York/Queen Elizabeth. Derek Jacobi is a beautifully sycophantic Archbishop of Canterbury, complete with gaiters; Michael Gambon is a convincing and bullying King George V and Timothy Spall encapsulates Winston Churchill without caricature. T S Eliot believed that his past was in his present, and this is a perfect encapsulation of what England once was and is a cinematographic piece of history that deserves to be duly rewarded.