The King’s Speech

This weekend we saw the movie, “The King’s Speech,” that has been nominated for a slew of Oscars. Enjoyed it very much. Although the history was prettified (the British administration’s attitude toward Hitler was more ambivalent than shown), this did not detract from a moving story. I was only a toddler when King George VI made the famous war speech that climaxes the story, but I must have heard excerpts, the sound of the words was so familiar. My earliest memories are of the hush in our New Zealand home when the BBC news came on. First the stately chimes of Big Ben. Then the announcer’s voice, orotund and crackly over the long-distance airwaves: “This is London calling. Here is the news, read by …” Pictures in the newspapers of King George and Queen Elizabeth inspecting bomb damage in London and comforting the survivors. They were our king and queen, and we loved them too.

The story of “The King’s Speech” is of the future king’s terrible stammer, and of his relationship with the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, a World War I veteran who stayed in England after that war ended to help soldiers whose powers of speech were traumatized by their experience.

One scene hit me hard. Logue, an aspiring actor and Shakespeare enthusiast, is auditioning with a local dramatic society. Their snobbish rejection, based on his Australian accent, thrust me painfully back to the years I lived in England during the 1960s. The English class structure was rigid. My accent pigeonholed me as a colonial, a box from which I could not escape.

Whether fictional or not, the king’s loyalty to Logue the Australian, in the face of his advisors’ disapproval of the fellow’s humble origins and lack of proper credentials, endeared me further to His Majesty.

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