Year Released: 2010
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
(R, 111 min.)
"Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." William Shakespeare
Beneath the inspiring tale of a stammering monarch, The King’s Speech is an examination of a British class system that clamps its iron jaws on kings as well as commoners, grinding both beneath its stiff upper lip. It’s not so much a wonder that the king stammers, but that everyone else does not.
The film’s simple title is rich in meaning. At one level it refers to the king’s requisite Christmas speech. Only now it isn’t the smooth talking George V who will address his subjects on the radio, but his second son “Bertie (Colin Firth),” newly crowned as England’s King George Vl since his older brother has abdicated the crown to marry a twice divorced American. Of course, the title also refers to the king’s peculiar speech itself; he is a painful stutterer who cannot spit out a sentence – even if it is to tell his two daughters a bedtime story – without choking on his own words.
Perhaps, too, the film’s title is a metaphor for all of Europe’s stumbling response to the scourge of a rising Hitler, but that political framework is only touched upon, a wise choice since we’ve about had our fill of politically bludgeoning films lately.
What brings this film to a full 5 star rating for me, what elevates it above the wonderful period pieces that no one does better than the Brits is that it is intensely personal. The political and courtly trappings are just that, trappings. The king is stripped of his robes – robes that seem to suffocate as much as they insulate him from the real world. And he emerges as complex human being, one with a flinty courage behind his faltering words.
Not that he does so willingly. Nudging him along the way is his wonderful wife, Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), the young Queen Mum, as her subjects lovingly called her until her death in 2002 at the age of 101.
At first Bertie’s halting speech is a refuge for the young Elizabeth. She has twice refused his proposals because she didn’t want the weight of royalty, but as she confides to him, “You were such a stammerer that I thought they’d leave us alone.”
But alas, even before his greatness is thrust upon him, young Bertie, as the Duke of York, has to make some public addresses. And they are almost as painful for us to watch as they must have been for him to give. And the side shots of the crowds assembled to hear his official remarks show that they share in his public humiliation.
The official court-approved doctor advises smoking “to relax his vocal chords” as well as a more ancient method, one he swears helped Demosthenes in ancient Greece – talking with a mouth full of pebbles. Of course, the king’s physician gives him marbles, 12 sterilized beauties scrupulously brought on a silver tray like scotch and soda, which, in hindsight, might have been a better choice. After almost choking on them, Albert leaves in a huff, vowing never to attempt any more therapies.
His wife doesn’t give up as easily, though, making an appointment with a rather unconventional speech therapist, a Lionel Logue of Harley Street (Geoffrey Rush), who hails from Australia. She sees him alone at first, calling herself simply Mrs. Johnson, after the alias her husband used in the royal navy to avoid being treated differently. Except now she is not too keen on being treated just like any of Lionel’s clients when he insists her husband come to his offices for treatment.
Her explanation of Albert’s predicament gives her unique view of court life.
Queen Elizabeth: [Using the name "Mrs. Johnson"] My husband's work involves a great deal of public speaking.
Lionel Logue: Then he should change jobs.
Queen Elizabeth: He can't.
Lionel Logue: What is he, an indentured servant?
Queen Elizabeth: Something like that.
Even after he learns that this so called indentured servant is of royal birth, Lionel’s colonial bred notions of equality do not dry up, even under the withering eye of the queen, who manages to hold out against him for all of several seconds.
His first meeting with his new patient, however, is almost a battle royal. Lionel insists on calling the then Duke of York "Bertie," a name only used by friends and family. Lionel also does what every coach knows he must; he brings the game to his own court, pun probably intended. The once and future king lights up, and Lionel forbids it. “My castle, my rules,” he quips.
Lionel Logue: Sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.
King George VI: My physicians tell me it helps to relax the throat.
Lionel Logue: They're idiots.
King George VI: They've been knighted.
Lionel Logue: Makes it official then.
With Lionel leading the charge, Bertie too begins to battle against the official idiots who have bullied and brutalized him throughout his life, finding not only his tongue, but his voice as well. It's an exhilarating moment in one of the best movies in years. Don't miss it.
Despite the polished silver, the translucent china, and the sparkling crystal; notwithstanding the ladies’ flowing silk, the men’s white ties, and the properly invisible, deferential staff, the royal dinner is anything but a family feast.
“We’re more of a corporation than a family,” Albert correctly observes, but even with cut-throat executives sabotaging each other's chances for the yearly bonus with skewering dinnertime conversation, one can imagine a much cozier atmosphere at their corporate banquet than the one here.
Maybe we can warm things up a bit with some homey English fare. Ours includes Yorkshire Pudding in honor of the king’s earlier title, Duke of York. Just the thing to warm you up on a cold winter’s night.
This recipe hails from Different Drummer's own little cookbook, Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook.
Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding
Place 5-pound beef roast fat side up on rack in shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Insert meat thermometer so tip is in center of thickest part of beef and does not rest in fat. Do not add water.
Roast uncovered in 325 degree oven to desired degree of doneness: 125 to 130 for rare, about 1 3/4 hours; 140 to 150 for medium, about 2 1/4 hours. If desired, add potatoes after approximately 15 minutes. See directions for browned roast potatoes below. About 30 minutes before roast reaches desired temperature above, prepare Yorkshire Pudding Batter. Heat square pan, 9 x 9 x 2 inches, or oblong baking dish, 11 x 7 x 1 1/2 inches, in oven.
When roast reaches desired temperature, remove from oven; increase oven temperature to 425 degrees. Transfer roast to platter; cover lightly with aluminum foil. Pour off 1/4 cup drippings from roast pan; place drippings in heated square pan. Pour in pudding batter. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cut into squares; serve with beef.
Yorkshire Pudding Batter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients with hand beater just until smooth.
Recipe Source: Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook