Friday, 14 January 2011

The KIngs Speech

This continues to be a good week. Yesterday I went to the cinema for the first time in over a month to experience the film about King George VI struggle overcome his speech impediment with the help of Lionel Logue the professionally unqualified speech therapist from Australia who became the life long friend of the King.

The film, The King’s Speech, has been well favoured with talk of a possible Oscar for the lead actor Colin Firth. The visit did not commence well in that my remaining voucher proved to be out of date so for the first occasion in about three years I was required to pay for the visit. One of the larger screens at the Cineworld Bolden was used with main area of the auditorium about 85 to 90% full. The flat lower level was empty until a couple of late comers decided to sit in the rear row. It was one of the larger audiences for a weekday mid afternoon show that I have seen in all the years of using attending the cinema since it opened. Unsurprising they were mostly of my generation or one below.

In contrast to the life of St Augustine Mini film drama whose review will follow, I would be surprised if there is anything in this film open to challenge by the Royal Family, given that Queen Elizabeth will have an accurate memory of her father’s heroic struggle to overcome his disability and cope with having to become King and Emperor.

My understanding is that the view of Lionel Logue comes primarily from the book written by his grandson and which I have ordered from Amazon at a substantial discount together with a book about the political influence of King George VI who many, if not everyone, regards as the most dedicated Monarch till this day, perhaps only being surpassed by his daughter. While on Amazon I came across two new books about the land of my parent’s,, Gibraltar and which I subsequently purchased with a £10 discount as a consequence of taking out the Amazon credit card which was automatically allocated within a couple of minutes of completing the form on line. I will therefore return to the true stories of King George VI and Lionel Logue in the future.

For the present my information is the Lionel was the eldest of four children born in Adelaide, Australia. While at school he appears to have been taken under the wing of one Edward Reeves who provided him with elocution lessons and then employed him as his secretary and then as an assistant teacher and studied music at the University in his home city. It is then said that he worked teaching elocution, acting and in public speaking contributing to various college and associations in the city before in 1911 in travelled around the world to study methods of public speaking. The crucial development in his life was trying to help veterans of World War I who had been affected by shell shock and had impaired speech. While he had learnt about the use of physical exercises the main characteristics developed at this time and which were to result in his service to the Duke and then King were humour, patience, empathy and personal commitment. He also believed in himself and what he could achieve.

At the age of 27 he married a 21 year old clerk Myrtle Gruenert who bore him three sons and to whom he appears to have been devoted. He become a Christian Scientist and after her death turned to spiritualism. Having established a living in Australia but evidently full of confidence he came to England with his family in 1924 and within five years had established himself with a practice in Harley Street. He made no pretence that he was qualified in medicine or speech therapy but obtained recognition by the British Institute who according to the film recommended Logue to the wife of King George at a point when he had tried various doctors and decided there was no cure for his problem.

The films opens in 1925 when Prince Albert, the Duke of York was asked to represent his father at the closing ceremony of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley and he struggled to read the message from his father much to his own embarrassment and that of the listeners. He determined to take action consulting various doctors including one who made him try and speak with his mouth full of glass marbles. This was the final humiliation which made the Duke believe nothing could be done and led his wife to make separate inquiring leading to the recommendation to try Logue, booking an appointment under a cover name for herself and then persuading her husband to visit the premises as required by Logue. Logue is reported to have insisted on referring to the Duke by his family name of Bertie and asking to be referred to as Lionel so that they could establish and equality in the relationship.

I am clear that the film does distort the chronology suggesting that after the first meetings the Duke decided against ousting treatment but changed his mind following the death of his father and the abdication crisis. In fact the Duke commenced and continued treatment long before this situation and by 1927 was speaking confidently and addressed the opening of Australian Parliament.

What interested me most is the revelations in the film about the childhood of the Duke who and a nanny nurse who physically abused and used food deprivation. The situation was not helped by the formality in which King George V and his wife appeared to have treated their children. What appears worse is that his father is portrayed as a bully without understanding or sympathy for his son seeing the impediment as a weakness which his son should have been able to overcome. His brother also made fun of his impediment and continued to do so into adulthood. The future King is portrayed as someone who not only lacked demonstrable affection during his growing up but had no one he could refer in later life as a friend. This was something he attempted to remedy with his own children although regretted how his impediment affected his communication with them.

My understanding is that the film accurately depicts the relationship between the Duke and his elder brother David and Wallace Simpson, a scheming adulteress woman who wanted to be Queen and who had other relationships before her divorce and marriage, including the German Ambassador Von Ribbentrop. In the recent updated Upstairs Downstairs Christmas series of three programmes, the household assumes that when Wallace Simpson says she is bringing an important close friend to the dinner party it is the King, when fact it is Von Ribbentrop.

While the King’s Speech appears to give an accurate portrayal of the King who puts his personal happiness before the interests of the state it is said to have underplayed the extent to which he and his future wife were sympathetic to Hitler. What is made clear is that Elizabeth never accepted or forgave her brother in law for his relationship with Mrs Simpson. It is also accurate that she hesitated over marrying the future King because of the requirement of being married to a senior royal but because he was the younger brother and had the stammer she felt they would not be asked to undertake excessive public engagements.

The film brings out that Albert tried to do what he could to prevent his brother abdicating and was in torment over his ability to take over. I have read one criticism that the film underplays his support for Baldwin and Chamberlain’s effort to avoid war with Germany until the attack on Poland forced the hand of the government.

There are then three wonderful moments in the film. The first is when the King and his wife calls at the home of Logue to ask him to restart his help after they have fallen out over one aspect of the treatment methods. Logue’s wife returns early to find the secret the husband has kept about his special patient with whom he was having difficulties. Logue then helps Bertie to make his first broadcast as the new King.

The second is the attempt for the establishment, led in the film by the Archbishop of Westminster, played by Derek Jacobi, to persuade the King to break with Logue because his lack of qualifications and standing. The King finds his voice, so to speak, and insists on rehearsing in private in the Abbey and to having Logue sit with the rest of the Royal family in their special enclosure. There is also a great mini performance by Timothy Small as Churchill.

The third great moment is the message which he gave to the Empire following the outbreak of War. It was a great speech by any standards but the film brings out the great struggle he had to make it, aided word for word by Logue in a specially prepared environment. Helena Bonham Carter plays Queen Elizabeth, Anthony Andrews Stanley Baldwin and Claire Bloom as Queen Mary. The film will certainly do well at the BAFTA’s It is nominated for all major awards in the Golden Globes this weekend. It could also take an Oscar or to.

1 comment:

  1. As a speech-language pathologist, I am definitely interested in seeing this movie. Thanks for the review.