The real story behind 'The King's Speech'
Doggedness and serendipity set up a small film's big success.
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The true-life tale of Prince Albert, who overcame a lifelong stammer on his way to becoming King George VI, seems built to appeal both to Americans' love of self-reinvention and also Britons' complex blend of nostalgia and ambivalence where their royals are concerned. The movie brims with the universal appeal of a fairy-tale ending – both in terms of its plot and also in that it is a $12 million film that has garnered 12 Oscar nods.
"[King George] is a man with problems, just like us, so we relate to him," he says.
But in depicting a royal who puts duty above his personal pain, this version of history is "also pure British Empire," says Wade Major, who teaches the film and social justice program at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles. It reinforces all the best values Britons attribute to themselves while it also humanizes the very notion of royalty – both past and present, he says.
The film is also well timed. It arrives as the British public finds itself face to face with the memory of another, more recent royal figure – Diana, Princess of Wales, whose own painful story hovers over the impending marriage of her first son, Prince William.
This is a wrenching moment for the British, says Mark Logue, grandson of Lionel Logue, the Australian actor and speech therapist – played in the film by Geoffrey Rush – whose unconventional techniques helped the second in line to the British throne (played by Colin Firth) gain his "voice."
The memory of Diana is everywhere, he says, speaking by phone from London. The film's story is a reminder of her appeal. "She was very human, with weaknesses and vulnerability, and the public had a great appetite for that," he says.
This film has been enthusiastically embraced by the British, points out Professor Major, who says that it underlines a shift in national attitudes. "The British want the royals to adapt; they do not want a replay of what happened with Diana," he adds.
Perhaps if the king's story had been told earlier, Diana's life story might have had a different outcome, notes Mr. Logue. But Queen Elizabeth (played by Helena Bonham Carter) refused to give screenwriter David Seidler her blessing to make a film about events of those days during her lifetime. And so, says Logue, "now becomes the perfect time, because people here are thinking about royalty in a new way." Everyone finally realizes that the monarchy has to change with the times, something Diana tried to do, but with little support from the British royal family, he says.
This deference to the former queen's desires drapes the making of the film with its own Cinderella story.
The king's travails are intensely personal for Mr. Seidler, who suffered from a childhood stutter himself after a wartime evacuation from England. He was keenly aware that the man who never expected to wear the British crown had labored mightily to overcome the same affliction.