How historically accurate is the movie The King's Speech?

Firth as George VI and Bonham-Carter as his wife Queen Elizabeth

In 2010, The King’s Speech won the Oscar for Best Picture and grossed over $414 million worldwide. It was an unlikely box office champion because it was based on a true story about King George VI of Britain (1895-1952) and an Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (1880-1953). It shows how Logue helped the king overcome a crippling stammer and how this helped him lead his country during World War II. The movie was directed by Tom Hooper and written by David Seidler.

Critics have widely praised the editing, cinematography, directing, and acting. The movie was able to express the main characters' inner life by the clever use of lighting and other cinematic techniques. Colin Firth won an Oscar for his portrayal of George IV/ The King’s Speech was produced by a British company, and it was shot mainly in London. Among the supporting cast was Helen Bonham-Carter, who played Queen Elizabeth, the wife of the king. The movie was nominated for 12 academy awards, and it won four awards, including one for Best Picture.

Before the movie began filming, the writer, Seidler, found Logue's journal and incorporated elements from the journal into the movie. However, despite this, the historical accuracy of the movie has been questioned and even widely criticized.

When does the King's Speech take place?

King George VI c. 1940

The King's Speech takes place mainly in the 1930s at a critical juncture for Britain and its Empire. The nation and its various dependencies had still not recovered from the ravages of World War or the Great Depression. Internationally, Hitler was in power in Germany, and many feared, correctly, that there would be another World War.[1] The rather bleak mood of the time is captured very well by the director. At this critical point in its history, the British Royal Family faced its crisis.

After George V's death, he was succeeded by his eldest son, who became Edward VII in 1936. Edward VII's reign was both brief and controversial. Edward wanted to marry a divorced American, Wallis Simpson. Marrying a divorced was unacceptable to many in Britain at this time as the King was also head of the Church of England. Divorce was socially unacceptable, and the Anglican Bishops and others denounced the idea of the monarch marrying a divorced woman.

When Edward VII decided to marry Wallis Simpson, he was forced to abdicate his crown soon after his Coronation. This meant that his younger brother George or Bertie, as he was known, became king. [2] The depiction of these events in the movie has been fictionalized but is reasonably accurate.

However, there were some inaccuracies in the movie that troubled viewers. One of the scenes that caused the most controversy was when Sir Winston Churchill, the future leader of war-time Britain, supported the accession of George V. This scene misrepresented Churchill's view of Edward's abdication entirely. Churchill supported Edward VII (1894-1972) and believed that he should remain as king despite his marriage to Wallis Simpson. He was friendly with the abdicated king and remained a supporter. [3]

Unlike in the movie, Churchill did have grave doubts about the ability of George VI to carry out his Royal duties. He was not alone in the belief, and many others shared that view in the highest circles of the British government. Over time, he did come to accept the younger brother of Edward VII and came to respect him as an able monarch and leader .[4]

The King and his Stutter

The future King Edward VII c 1920

The movie's central theme is the difficulties faced by George VI because of his stutter and how Logue was able to help him overcome his speech defect. This depiction is historically accurate, and the future George VI had a serious speech impediment. In the movie, Firth's character is shown as having a terrible stammer and that when he became nervous or anxious, he was almost unable to communicate. His stammer made public speaking almost impossible for the monarch.

The movie shows that his speech impediment was a result of his insecurity and shyness. [5] This was very much the case, and George VI did have a terrible stutter from childhood. The King’s Speech accurately shows the real problems caused by the future George VI and the entire Royal Family. In one scene at the opening of an exhibition celebrating the British Empire, George struggles with a speech and becomes visibly upset. The movie shows many senior officials and members of the Royal Family becoming gravely concerned about this. In the 1930a, when the movie is set, for the first-time, Royalty members were expected to speak in public and be effective communicators because of the growing importance of the mass media.[6]

The inability of George VI to publicly speak clearly was a real problem, and it was feared that it could damage the Royal Family and even undermine confidence in the government of the British Empire. The movie does somewhat exaggerate the importance of the king’s stutter, but it was a significant issue for the Royal Family.

When did Lionel Logue begin treating George VI?

Lionel Logue c 1930

Perhaps the biggest inaccuracy in the movie is that Logue was, in reality, able to help the King to overcome his stammer before the abdication crisis and his coronation rather than after these events. He first began to treat the second son of George V in the 1920s and continued to do so for many years. The movie shows that the treatment took place in the 1930s, and this was no doubt done for dramatic effect, but this is not strictly correct.

Cooper’s movie relates how George had been seeking help all his life for his stammer, and he tried every technique and treatment available for the time, which is true. The 2010 motion picture does really capture the sense of desperation and anxiety that the future George VI had over his speech impediment. He is shown as going in desperation to the Australian Logue, and this is also correct. The therapist is shown as using innovative techniques to help George overcome his stammer, which is right. The Australian was an early pioneer in speech and language therapy, and he was an innovator.[7] The film shows Rush trying to instill more confidence in the Royal. He adopts several strategies, but none are shown to work.

How did Logue treat George VI's speech impediment?

Eventually, he provokes the king, and in his anger, he can speak stutter-free. In reality, the speech and language therapist gave the monarch a series of daily vocal exercises, such as tongue twisters, that were designed to help him to relax. This helped the future king to relax, and this was key to the improvements in his speech. The motion picture does show that the treatment was not a total success, and the king continued to have a very slight stammer. This was indeed the case. However, the improvement in the speech of George VI was remarkable, which is accurately shown in the 2010 movie. It shows George having grave doubts about Logue and his treatment when he hears that he is not formally qualified as a therapist.

In real life, this did not cause a crisis in the relationship between the British sovereign and the Australian therapist. It is correct that Logue was not formally qualified because there was no education system for language therapy when he was young. Instead, he was self-taught and had traveled the world, studying the ideas of respected speech therapists. The movie leaves the viewers in no doubt that the king and the Royal Family owed the Australian a great debt, and this was the case, and when George VI died, his widow, the Queen, wrote to the therapist to thank him for all he had done for her husband.[8]

What was the relationship between King George VI and Lionel Logue?

The movie shows that the two men began to become real friends over time, despite their differences. This was the case, and it appears that both men liked each other and even enjoyed each other’s company. The relationship between the British king and the Australian is very realistically shown, and they remained friends until the early death of George VI. The movie shows that Logue was present when George made important Radio broadcasts to the British Public. This was the case, but Logue continued to coach the king to speak in public for many years.

In the movie, Logue is shown when George VI pronounced that Britain was at war with Germany in September 1939 during a radio address to the nation. This is not correct, but the Australian did provide the king with notes on things where he should pause and breathe, and these were a real help in the most important speech the monarch ever made. Logue continued to coach the king for many years until about 1944.

The therapist is shown as being very much at ease in the King's presence and treating him like any other client. This was not the case. Despite their genuine friendship, Logue would have been expected to have been somewhat formal and respect the Royal Person of the King at all times. In real life, Logue was not as easy-going and familiar with George VI as portrayed in the historical drama.[9]

Was George VI accurately portrayed in the King's Speech?

Colin Firth’s performance was widely praised. The British actor won the Academy Award for Best Actor. While Firth's performance was widely acclaimed, there were some concerns about how accurately he portrayed the monarch. In the main, Firth did manage to capture George VI and his character in the feature film. The British actor did correctly show that the monarch was a timid and insecure man who felt that he was not equal to his Royal duties, and this was something that greatly distressed him.[10]

His stammer may have been a result of his sense of inadequacy, but this cannot be known, for certain. Firth does show that the monarch did grow in stature after he was crowned as King. It leaves the viewer in no doubt that by the end of the movie, Firth, who has largely overcome his stammer, could lead his country in its hour of greatest danger.[11]

This was the case, and the monarch became widely respected for his leadership and his calm dignity. However, the script tended to be overly sympathetic to George and avoided his character's rather unpleasant aspects. He was alleged to have both fits of anger and alleged acts of domestic violence. Those allegations have not been confirmed.

Helena Bonham Carter's performance was praised, and she does capture the personality of Queen Elizabeth (1900-2002). She was a very supportive wife and dedicated to her husband. She did not want him to become king because she feared what it would do to him. Her family, as shown in the feature film.[12] Geoffrey Rush played the character of the speech and language therapist Logue, and he presented him as a larger-than-life figure who was charismatic, and this was indeed the case. It is generally agreed that Rush really captured the personality of the acclaimed speech and language therapist.

How realistic is the King's Speech?

Overall, the movie is historically accurate. It shows the modern viewer the importance of the King's treatment for his speech impediment. This movie also captures the real sense of anxiety in Britain in the 1930s, and it broadly captures the historical context of the Coronation of George VI. The relationship between Logue and the monarch is also largely accurate. However, this is a movie, and the need to entertain means some inaccuracies, especially concerning details such as the king's treatment. However, when compared to other historical dramas, the movie is very realistic.

Further Reading

Bowen, C. (2002). Lionel Logue: Pioneer speech therapist 1880-1953. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=53

Bradford, Sara. King George VI (London, Weidenfeld, and Nicolson, 1989).

Ziegler, Philip, King Edward VIII: The Official Biography ( London, Collins, 1990).

References

  1. Thorpe, A. Britain in the 1930s (London, Blackwell 1992), p 115
  2. Thorpe, p 118
  3. Rhodes James, Robert A spirit undaunted: The Political Role of George VI (London: Little, Brown & Co, 1998), p 118
  4. Logue, Mark; Conradi, Peter, The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy (New York: Sterling, 2010), p 13
  5. Logue, p 134
  6. Thorpe, p. 289
  7. Logue, p 145
  8. Logue, p 115
  9. Logue, p. 167
  10. Logue, p 189
  11. Logue, p 192
  12. Rhodes, p 201