In a critically and commercially disappointing year for the film industry, one of the few highlights has been the reception given to The King’s Speech. The movie has been nominated for just about every existing award, and a bevy of Oscar nominations are forthcoming. The period drama is also on its way to financial success.
Like Stephen Frears’s film from 2006, The Queen—which won Helen Mirren an Oscar for her eponymous performance—The King’s Speech is a testament to Americans’ continuing fascination with the British Royal Family. But, unlike The Queen, which was merely simplistic in its portrayal of the monarchy, The King’s Speech is historically inaccurate, entirely misleading, and, in its own small way, morally dubious.
The film tells the story of King George VI (Colin Firth) and his battle with a speech impediment. Bertie, as he was known, seeks the help of a speech therapist (played by Geoffrey Rush), and the two spend most of the film—differences in social status be damned—bonding. By the time the credits roll, Bertie has conquered his stammer, and the British people are well on their way to vanquishing fascism—the latter, naturally, having been aided by the former, thanks to an inspiring royal address from
The only reason that Bertie managed to ascend to the throne in the first place was that his older brother, David (aka Edward VIII), decided to abdicate so he could marry a
By shortchanging the danger that Edward posed to
Bertie himself is also romanticized. He is seen presciently raising the question of German aggression before the invasion of the
Bertie ascended to the throne at the end of 1936. Three years later, he gives the speech of the film’s title. In the time between these two events, the British government notoriously blundered and appeased the Nazis, most famously at
The strange unwillingness of The King’s Speech to mention any of this is at least somewhat surprising for one reason: The actual arc of George VI’s character would make a fine and interesting movie. Just think: A king fights against a stutter and his dastardly, treasonous brother, while eventually sloughing off his old instincts for appeasement. He even overcomes his distaste for Winston Churchill—the politician who bent over backward for that very same brother—and lends his steadfast support to Churchill’s aggressive policy against fascism.
Why wasn’t this story told? The likely answer is that even highbrow critics and audiences love to toast the House of Windsor. While the Royal Family may frequently appear more tawdry than anything else, cheap American Anglophilia can always be counted on to provide thunderous applause. Take The Queen. Unlike The King’s Speech, that movie was witty and compelling. But it also presented the Princess Diana phenomenon with a complete lack of distance. Viewers who wondered why the Western world came to a halt for two weeks solely because of an unexceptional woman’s death were unlikely to find any answers from the movie. Now, The King’s Speech has taken things a step further by not only simplifying its story but grossly misrepresenting real events and people. Apparently, the life of George VI had too many shades of gray for a mainstream film.