Crippled By Shyness, George Vi Turned To A Speech Therapist In The King’s Speech

Viewers of a certain vintage – ancient types whose frame of reference matches your correspondent’s – may recall tuning in for The Queen’s Speech, broadcast over the radio on the evening of Christmas Day from 1953 onward.

Still a ratings winner, last night’s 64th “Empire Report” – had its origins in 1932 when the media savvy King George V who appreciated the opportunity to address his subjects – at that time numbering about one fourth of the world’s population – initiated the annual ritual employing the electric talking wireless .

Felled by illness in January 1936, he was succeeded by his son, Edward VIII (here winningly played by Guy Pearce), who abdicated in December 1936 due to an obsession (hello Prince Harry)with an American divorcee.

In those days and up to the mid-1950s during the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the broadcast was a scratchy affair transmitted in several parts along undersea cables often with disturbing fluctuations in tone and quality that interfered with Her Maj’s notably mellifluous diction.

It is now a slickly choreographed televised event but this story deals with the struggle of The Queen’s father, George VI, whose diction was far from mellifluous. Proximity to a microphone reduced Bertie to a stammering mess.

This inability to speak confidently and authoritatively to his subjects was a serious burden for the shy, unassuming monarch (Colin Firth), and of serious to his government and court advisers.

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Important speeches announcing Britain’s direction befell George when he became king following Edward’s pike-out just before Christmas in 1936. War with Germany loomed. Uniting the kingdom was of crucial importance.

Urged on by Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall), the King and his wife, The Duchess of York (Helena Bonham Carter), seek the assistance of a failed Australian actor turned speech therapist, Lionel Logue.

Logue (Geoffrey Rush) isn’t unsophisticated but he understands success hinges on establishing a bond with his student – it’s basic communication after all.

Intimacy is anathema to His Majesty – and to The Duchess who is a snob.

The scene is thus set for three people obliged to connect by modifying their attitude and, by finding common – but not too common – ground, attain a level of assertive oratory vindicating the faith the public needs to have in their king.

There’s a luscious scene in which Logue auditions for a provincial rep company’s production of Richard III (“Now Is The Winter of Our Discontent….”). Rush, who starred in The Life And Death of Peter Sellers (2004), fares about as well as Sellers’s hapless thespian character, Warrington Minge, but there’s no shortage of sequences that rely on judicious acting – which is duly delivered.

The climactic speech has been likened to the pivotal 100-yard dash in Chariots of Fire – an analogy involving determination, class, racial elements and those peculiar notions of duty to god and country.

Tom Hooper’s film is more of a long distance event than a sprint but every bit as good as David Putnam’s classic.

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