Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The King's Speech--Time for Applause

The King’s Speech is a film of a most unlikely friendship. In one corner we have a stuttering would-be king of England and in the other corner a failed-actor-speech therapist barely eking out a living. The film opens as Prince Albert (Bertie) attempts to open the British Empire Exhibition in 1925. Standing before the microphone the speech was a disaster. The Prince could only utter a few words without long pauses and stutters. He left that event defeated.

The question that lurks at the edge of the story is: How can a King lead a nation if he cannot speak to his subjects and to the world at large? Radio was just beginning to make inroads in the world and Prince Albert knew he was in trouble. After many therapists his wife Elizabeth discovered therapist Lionel Logue and drags her husband to see him. One of the strands in the movie is the study in class between the Prince and the shabby unknown therapist. Sparks fly. Teacher Logue sets the ground rules. The Prince must meet on his turf—not the King’s. They would call each other first names. The King explodes: “Nobody calls me Bertie outside the palace. You will address me as Prince Albert.” The Therapist stand firm: in that room there would be only Bertie and Lionel—no pecking order.

The film reminded me of the Helen Keller-Annie Sullivan story. Slowly, after many false starts Lionel begins to break through the King’s crust and phobias. Prince Albert becomes King and Lionel is by his side. When the new King gives his first address at Westminster Abby when he is crowned—Lionel encourages and stands by him. The new King did not stumble.

One of the most serious speeches the King would ever give was when he talked to his nation and the world by radio about England’s entering the war against the Nazis. Lionel was there nudging him on. King George VI never made a major address without Lionel being there.

The film is multi-layered. There is the transcending of class, of a terrible speech problem, the formation of an enduring friendship by two most unlikely people. Moviegoers watch the transformation from a man with a terrible affliction slowly able to overcome this difficult problem. It was a moving story right out of the history books.

Why moving? Many reasons. The wonder of what one human being might do for another. The power of strong relationships. The truth that we can all overcome a great deal more than we ever imagined. The King’s young wife, Elizabeth stood by his side and helped him find his way. She would become the beloved Queen Mother England so loved. I wondered if the King would have ever been able to overcome his stuttering without the love and encouragement of his wife.

A friend told me that when she saw the movie that as it ended the whole theatre broke loose in applause. I can understand that response. As the credits scrolled across the screen and the movie’s end, I rubbed tears from my eyes. I was reminded again of what human beings can do for one another. I recommend The King’s Speech to everybody. It will lift your spirits and make you glad again that you are a member of the human family. This is a rare and wonderful movie.

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