Thursday, March 3, 2011

The King's Speech and Aussies

I confess that I haven’t yet seen the film The King’s Speech.  When I first heard about it some time ago, I looked it up on the net to find out what the storyline was.  There were some interesting facts.

For those who have not yet seen it and don’t want to know what it is about, read no further.  There are spoilers ahead.  I imagine that most people by now know the general general story depicted in the movie. 

The film is a British historical drama in which Colin Firth plays Albert, the brother of Edward, Prince of Wales. Edward, as Edward VIII, became king on the death of their father, George V, in 1936. In the same year Edward abdicated over his love for Wallis Simpson, thereby promoting Albert, aka “Bertie”, aka George VI, to the position of king. There is only one problem, Bertie has a terrible stutter that makes him a hopeless public speaker. From 1934 Bertie utilised the services of Aussie speech therapist Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush. When Britain declares war on Germany in 1939, Bertie delivers a faultless speech heard around the world.

At least that is what the film shows.

The reality is somewhat different and also removes the even stronger Australian connection than Lionel Logue coming from the Antipodes.

The following are the factual differences:

• Edward began working with Logue in 1926, not 1934.

• The improvement in Edward’s speech was apparent in months, not years, as depicted in the movie.

• The important speech was not the declaration of war in 1939 but the opening of the Australian Parliament in 1927.

• It is doubtful that Logue ever swore in front of the king or called him Bertie.

• It is also generally thought that the king supported Chamberlain’s appeasement policy, rather than opposing it.

• Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill were not present when the king made his speech on Britain’s entry into the war and there were no cheering crowds outside Buckingham Palace.

Btw, throughout the film, Logue refuses to allow Bertie to smoke, saying "sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you." Owing largely to increased smoking to deal with the stress of World War II, King George VI died of lung cancer on February 6th 1952.  The current Queen Elizabeth II, his daughter, then came to the throne.

Also, this movie is an Australian co-production.  It is therefore the first Australian film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Geoffrey Rush with a pic of the real Lionel Logue.

Rear row, from left:  Queen Elizabeth I (later the Queen Mother), Queen Mary, King George VI.
Front row, from left:  Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II), Princess Margaret.
Photo taken at George VI's coronation in 1936.

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