Here are two statements about The King’s Speech (2010):
It is an uplifting, fact-based film with an equally inspiring backstory.
It contains a number of glaring historical inaccuracies.
Both statements are true.
Uplifting Film, Inspiring Backstory
Tom Hooper’s film deals with England’s Prince Albert (Colin Firth) and his struggles to adjust to his new role as King George VI. This is a role thrust upon Albert (aka Bertie) by the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, to marry American Wallis Simpson.
Until his infatuation with Mrs. Simpson, the dashing Edward enjoyed great popularity among the British people. His younger brother is less confident and plagued by a stammer that made him worry about speaking publicly.
Bertie obtains the services of a speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). A friendship arises between the two men during therapy; in large part, The King’s Speech is the story of this relationship. The film culminates with George VI successfully delivering a speech that announces Britain’s 1939 declaration of war with Germany.
Exchanges between the two men reveal many reasons for Bertie’s stammer- abuse by a nanny, being forced to write with his right hand when he was in fact left-handed, a distant and authoritarian father. Firth and Rush both give strong performances here. Logue must break through Bertie’s defenses in order to help. Bertie clings to his early fears but keeps the proverbial stiff upper lip. Many of the early sessions, in particular, feel like verbal duels.
There is an additional dimension to all this, in that screenwriter David Seidler stammered as a child and also heard the wartime speech by George VI. The adult Seidler wrote to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (widow of George VI) asking for permission to write a story about the speech. Finding the memories overly painful, the Queen Mother asked him not to write the story during her lifetime. Seidler complied with the request, which meant he was in his seventies when The King’s Speech finally came to the screen. He won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and also set a record, being the oldest person (73) to do so.
Glaring Historical Inaccuracies
The King’s Speech is generally acknowledged to have gotten historical personalities more or less right. The problems come with events that are either altered or omitted entirely. Perhaps the most obvious error is in the portrayal of Winston Churchill, who is seen as sympathetic to Bertie. In actuality, Churchill supported Edward through the entire furor over his abdication. This shocked many people, since Edward tended toward both appeasement and fascism.
It should come as no surprise that, at least initially, Bertie did not harbor nearly as much affection for Churchill as shown in the film. Bertie also tended toward appeasement. He favored Lord Halifax as a replacement for Chamberlain, not Churchill. It should be noted, though, that Bertie did develop affection and respect for Churchill during World War II.
Shortly after Edward married Mrs. Simpson in 1937, the two journeyed to Hitler’s Berghof retreat in Bavaria. The German media recorded the visit in detail, including a moment when Edward gave the Nazi salute. Many people feared Hitler might try to reinstate Edward to create a fascist state in Britain. To minimize this prospect, Edward was appointed Governor of the Bahamas in 1940. This is omitted from The King’s Speech, although the film does show Edward in a beach location when he listens to the final speech on the radio.
Films have taken liberties with history since their earliest days. As many people have pointed out, real life does not tend to be cinematic. In this case, though, it was. Much as I enjoy The King’s Speech, I would like to see this other story told. With any luck, Mr. Seidler is writing it now.
Theme: Royal Friendships
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