Monday, 10 January 2011

The King's Speech

‘What was the film about?’ we were asked at supper. ‘Speech therapy,’ was my deliberately uninformative reply. ‘No, it was about a dysfunctional family,’ was the better offer from the other side of the table.

Speech therapy. A man with a speech impediment had a job which required public speaking. At the beginning of the film he made a speech incoherently, and people were embarrassed. At the end of the film he made a speech haltingly but effectively, and people were congratulatory. Both the man and his speech therapist are heros.

A dysfunctional family. His impediment was the result of parental bullying and emotional deprivation as a child. In the middle of the film he makes desperate, sincere and effective attempts to relate better to his own children, but by the end of the film the perceived requirements of his job have sabotaged this project. ‘It is extraordinary what human beings will do to each other,’ was the follow up remark from the other side of the table.

I already knew the story backwards. I devoured the history at about the age of eleven in everything from reading the Duke of Windsor’s A King’s Story to listening to the play Crown Matrimonial . So I recognised all sorts of phrases planted in the dialogue from George V’s ‘I’ll make sure my children are afraid of me’ to suggestions about the origins of Wallis Simpson’s sexual techniques.

I even still have LP records of the speeches involved, and know them well enough to recognise how close Colin Firth comes to George VI’s voice, and how Guy Pearce fell at a final Edward VIII hurdle (only half capturing the strangled ‘I’ in the middle of the abdication broadcast).

I enjoyed a huge amount (from Helen Bonham Carter to witty turns in the script) and could see why people praise Firth’s acting, but in the end felt more queasy at the air brushing. Did Edward VIII’s friend and supporter Churchill really take the Duchess of York aside to agree with her about Wallis Simpson? What happened to the whole appeasement process right through to Chamberlain being invited to the Palace balcony?

I fear it wasn’t about speech therapy or about a dysfunctional but instead about the one simplistic version of history British people are allowed to believe in relation to the undoubtedly real royal contribution to the morale of the Second World War. What we don’t know is what sort of leader, speaker and inspired of the nation Edward VIII would have turned out to be if he’d been on the throne through it, and whether or not his ‘Prince Hal’ would have been a ‘Henry V’.

The picture with the last post was from a retreat at Alton Abbey last year. The picture with this one is of some of the minor damage done in Great Coates churchyard by the weight of recent snow.

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