First a personal note. Although I don’t stutter myself, Marty Jezer, a beloved friend of mine who passed away in recent years, wrote a brilliant book about stuttering and the nasty “cures” visited on those who do. (You can find Stuttering: A Life Bound Up In Words here.) So I took a special interest in this captivating film.
The second son of the late King George V is unexpectedly shoved onto the throne when his brother King Edward VIII abdicates due, ostensibly, to his irrepressible love for a twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson. However, this reluctant King George VI (Colin Firth) – father of the present Queen Elizabeth – has been stuttering since childhood and the necessity to make constant war-time speeches is excruciating. His wife recalls that although she turned his marriage proposal down twice because she never wanted to live the royal life, she decided finally that they’d be protected from it by his “lovely stammer.”
Luckily he has been working with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an unconventional, un-certified speech therapist with whom he, quite surprisingly, develops an actual friendship. King George VI has never really hung out with actual non-aristocrats and it takes Logue to teach him how to behave himself – and how to form a friendship. Rush is the most endearing character in every scene he appears in.
The wives of the two main characters maintain quite remarkable relationships with their husbands. The women intervene as equals when their men need a bit of bucking up, but otherwise appear to have their own independent lives. Queen Elizabeth (the late queen mother) is well-played by Helena Bonham Carter, and Myrtle Logue, a minor role, is nicely carried off by Jennifer Ehle, who I immediately remembered as Elizabeth Bennett from the 1995 TV mini-series Pride and Prejudice.
The director Tom Hooper has been honing his chops for just such a film by directing other period pieces, including two much-acclaimed TV mini-series “John Adams” and “Elizabeth I” with Helen Mirren.
The good news about “The King’s Speech”: The settings are scrumptious – an inside view of all the palaces and cathedrals familiar to us in a commoners-sort-of-way. The acting is magic, from the top to the bottom of the cast. The movie, although two hours long, kept me so engaged throughout that I neither dozed nor slipped out for a pee, my usual film-going activities.
The disconcerting news: There is not a single person of color in the film, as far as I could see. I understand that in 1936, when George VI acceded to his perch, the aristocracy and their pals were quite likely to all be white. However, there are occasional crowd scenes and street scenes when the ragged lessers are glimpsed, and even there it is as if no one in the 1930s England was non-white.
The other “whitewash” as it were has to do with Wallis Simpson and Edward. Although there was a hint of their sympathy for Hitler and the Nazis, and of Simpson’s alleged ongoing affair with the German Ambassador Ribbentrop, I suspect that the true backstory to Albert’s abdication had more to do with the British government’s political distrust of this couple on the eve of war with Germany, than with the scandal of her divorces and nationality. Hopefully wiser, more informed readers will please let me know what they think about this.
Overall, I haven’t spent a better 118 minutes in a movie house in a long time, despite its limited human palette. The trailer follows: