Monday musings on Australian literature: The King’s Speech (Movie)

His Majesty King George VI of the United Kingdom.

King George VI, c. 1942 (Presumed Public Domain: From the United Nations Information Office, via Wikipedia)

I wasn’t going to review The King’s Speech, the current biopic about how Lionel Logue helped cure George VI‘s stuttering, because I mostly review Australian films. But, I do like a biopic and this film does have some Australian connections. These connections may not be particularly literary but, what the heck, at least one of the connections does relate to language … and so I’ve decided to make the review my first Monday musings of 2011.

Like most who’ve seen this film, I was engaged by it and would happily see it again to further explore its subtleties and nuances. Of course it helps that it stars Colin Firth. Anyone who has played Mr Darcy as well as he did is a friend of mine! And, it stars other actors from that wonderful 1995 miniseries of Pride and prejudice: Jennifer Ehle (Lizzie Bennet then, Myrtle Logue now) and David Bamber (Mr Collins then, a theatrical producer now). In addition, its actors include some Australians, including Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue and Guy Pearce as David, the abdicating King Edward VIII. And, let’s not forget the often underappreciated Helena Bonham Carter who plays George VI’s wife (later to become the much beloved Queen Mum). (Did you know that Helena’s distant cousin, Crispin, played Mr Bingley in the Firth-Ehle Pride and prejudice? Oh, the tangled webs!)

Now, I’m no expert in the history of George VI. I knew he was a shy man who did not want the monarchy; I knew he was a very popular monarch; and I was vaguely aware that he had stammered. I knew, however, absolutely nothing about the role an Australian played in the management (cure?) of this stammer. Consequently, I’m not going to comment, as I believe some others have done, on the veracity of the film. It is a biopic after all. Rather, I’ll just mention a couple of issues.

One relates to the fact that it was an Australian who helped George (Bertie to his family). At the time, the 1920s-1940s, Australians were very much seen as the “colonials” and not, really, as people who could teach the Brits anything. In the film this is portrayed pretty clearly through the Archbishop of Canterbury’s (played by another British acting great, Derek Jacobi) disdain for Logue and his lack of formal credentials, despite the successes he had already achieved with Bertie. I was tickled by the subtle way the film conveyed this little part of the history between our two nations. The tension between the two men is not subtle, but this particular subtext is.

The other issue has nothing to do with Australia, but is related to the film’s very effective sound design. First though, let’s talk Colin Firth. Can you imagine being an actor playing someone who can’t speak? What a challenge, but Firth pulls it off. The film is not afraid to let time drag when Bertie/George tries to speak. It lets the clicks and stutters reverberate as he struggles to get a word out . It’s excruciating – and is sustained just to the point at which we feel his pain and that of those around him but are not irritated by it. The score underpinning the movie is pretty spot on too – lovely original music combined with well-known music (particularly by Mozart and Beethoven). But, here’s my issue. I was intrigued by the use of a favourite piece of mine, the first movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, to background the King’s first war-time speech. Beethoven? For a speech about a second war with the Germans? That was to me weird … Was it intended to be ironic in some way? The King’s triumphant speech set against the reality of what was to come?

Whatever, it’s an engaging film which not only tells a specific story about English royalty, but is also about universals: perseverance and hard work (the King’s in overcoming his speech problem), supporting, encouraging and standing by the one you love (his wife), and the value of experience and ingenuity over paper qualifications (Logue).

If you haven’t seen it yet, do … and tell them an Australian sent you!

22 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: The King’s Speech (Movie)

  1. Beautiful write-up, Whispering Gums. As you know, I saw the film tonight. I really enjoyed it, and was also thrilled to see so many actors pop up whom I recognised. You forgot to mention that Churchill was played by the actor who plays Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films! I also almost couldn’t recognize Guy Pearce – it was funny to see Aussies playing Aussies as well as English playing Aussies and Aussies playing the English.

    I, too, noticed the music and it’s contribution to the overall feel of the movie, and was remined about how the Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth were held up as icons of girlhood during WW2 (something which I learnt from the American Girls series…)

    Also, hurrah for Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle! (It had to be said.)

    • Thanks Hannah … glad you enjoyed it. Not that I thought you wouldn’t! You mean Timothy Spall. Yes, well, there were so many actors to mention. Where do you stop? For me, I guess, I stopped at Harry Potter!

      • I had no idea Timothy Spall is in the Harry Potter movies! I have seen (and loved) The Kings Speech. Looking forward to seeing it again actually, which should be easy, as it hasn’t hit the screens in our particular patch of small town Australia. I didn’t recognise Guy Pearce! Didn’t recognise Ehle either, but worked out who she was. Was totally surprised at the end to realise he was in it. And I didn’t know David Bamber’s name, and didn’t recognise Mr Collins as being there- so I’ll have to see it again. I thought that the disdain from the Archbishop of Canterbury was quite realistic- the officials around the King would take their duty quite seriously to protect the King from unqualified, Australian quacks. And reasonably so.

        • Thanks for your comments Louise … I haven’t heard anyone not like the film yet. I must say, I’d happily see it again. I did recognise Guy Pearce, but it took me a while to recognise Ehle I must say. Anyhow, enjoy the rest of your time in NZ.

  2. I wonder if Beethoven isn’t one of those “universals” you refer to. I suspect orchestras didn’t cease playing Beethoven during the war, or did they? Interesting issue you raise.

    • It’s hard to imagine that they stopped playing Beethoven, and probably didn’t – he is a bit of a universal as you say. Still, music would not have been playing during the actual speech so the filmmaker/director has made a choice here and it would be interesting to know the thinking behind it.

      • Having lived through the war years (though only as a school child) I think I can assert that the Brits did not, unlike the Nazis, embargo any composers. The Nazis certainly did embargo Jewish composers and writers, and promoted German artistes.

        • Oh good … funnily enough people didn’t clap at the end of our sitting but I’ve heard that it’s happened at many. I did nearly clap when he finished that last speech though. It’s a wonderful movie — I’d like to read the book as I think there are differences but I believe they’ve got the essence of the story and that’s what we want movies to do isn’t it?

  3. It does sound like a great movie. I might go see it when I head to Melbourne for a few days next week.

    Here’s my lame claim to fame: I once saw Colin Firth walking down Chiswick High Street (not far from where I live in London). I then discovered he and his wife had opened an “ecological store” nearby — and they live in the area. Never been to the shop, and not sure it’s still there, as this was several years ago now.

    • Was he wearing a wet shirt? LOL. I don’t think that’s a lame claim to fame at all! Anyhow, let me know what you think of the film if you go see it … and I really think you should!

  4. Thanks for an informative review! Yes, I was delighted to see David Bamber… he’s funny even when he doesn’t intend to. And Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth together on screen in the same scene, that’s a rarity indeed. But oh what a contrast in looks, and in acting too. CF is just getting better and better. I’ve appreciated your pointing out the universals… so true, one of the major reasons the movie resonates among us common folks. And like you, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the sound and music. You’ve raised a very good point about using Beethoven’s 7th. I’ll have to mull on this one… as a slow blogger, I’m still thinking about how to write my post. 😉

    • Thanks Arti, I see you’ve written your review now. Will pop over and read it in the next day. I am out of town at present walking in our mountains so online time is at a premium. I look forward, though, to seeing what you have to say.

      • And Colin Firth won the Golden Globe Best Actor award last night, how deserving! If you’re interested, I have his full acceptance speech posted … an exemplary speech indeed.

        • Yes, I heard … and I quickly skimmed your post when it popped into my email inbox last night. Loved the speech – loved the fact that you posted it there. Will go to your post soon and read it properly.

  5. I must admit that I didn’t even recognize Jennifer Ehle!
    Speaking of accents, I thought that hers was rather good.

    I noticed the music soundtrack too. I love the Beethoven they used but I thought that it was a little hackneyed really. I don’t know what was gained by using familiar music as opposed to original music.

  6. I’ve heard such good things about this movie and I hear a short piece with Firth on public radio before Christmas about the challenge of the role. I do want to see this one. And I will definitely look out for other P&P actors. I had no idea they were in it or Helena Bonham Carter either. I think she is marvelous.

    • Thanks Stefanie … I hope you get to see it, and would love to hear what you think. I haven’t heard of anyone yet not liking it (though the nitpickers do note the inaccuracies BUT it is a biopic, not a documentary after all and I think it captures the essence and general facts of the story well).

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