The King’s Speech

Posted on April 18, 2011 at 8:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Profanity: One brief scene with profanity used as a vocal exercise
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: Class difference
Date Released to Theaters: December 17, 2010

One of the best movies of the year makes a king look like an underdog in the true story of a man who had to literally and metaphorically find his voice, with in a very real sense the fate of the world depending on it.
kings-speech-34.jpgIt wasn’t because she didn’t love him, she explains, when she turned down his proposal of marriage twice. It was because he was a prince, a member of the British royal family, and she did not want to live a public life. And then she remembered that she did love him. And that he had a stammer, so she concluded that would keep him on the sidelines. And then she married him, and they had two children. And then he became king.
The Duke of York (Colin Firth), known as Bertie to his family, was an almost-ideal second son in the royal family. He served honorably in the military and took his public duties seriously. He had no interest his brother David’s position as the heir to the throne. But then three things happened. First, radio was invented, and all of a sudden a dignified wave was not enough. For the first time, all of Great Britain (encompassing, at that time, one quarter of the developed world) could hear the voice of their leaders. Second, Hitler’s aggression was making war inevitable.
And third, Bertie’s brother David, by then King Edward VIII, would shatter precedent and become the first ruler in British history to resign, in royal terms, to abdicate, so that he would be free to marry an American divorcee named Wallis Simpson. Just at the moment when the British people most needed to hear their king, they had a king who could not TIFF-Kings-Speech-colin_firth_helena_bonham_carter_kings_speech4.jpgspeak.
The best doctors had been consulted, and Bertie had been subjected to treatment that literally went back to Demosthenes. And then the Duchess brought him to Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian actor who had worked with the shell-shocked veterans of WWI. As an actor, he knew breathing techniques and other exercises to help make the spoken word smooth and compelling. And his work with the veterans showed him that the relationship between the therapist and the stutterer — and sometimes the opportunity to talk about the stutterer’s experiences and fears — could be very important.
And so Bertie has, for the first time ever, conversations with someone outside his family. He desperately wants to maintain his dignity, but he even more desperately wants to be able to play this increasingly more crucial role.
The movie may be sepia tones and British accents but it is not at all stuffy thanks to Firth, Rush and Helena Bonham Carter as his wife. Firth shows us Bertie’s struggles to locate his voice and define his role. In one scene, when he tells his little girls (including the current Queen Elizabeth) a bedtime story, it is almost unbearably touching because it means so much to him and the story is so self-deprecatory and loving. People who have trouble speaking spend a lot of time listening and observing. Bertie watches his father and brother with deference, a need for approval, and also a thoughtful evaluation of their strengths and weaknesses as though he is measuring them as a way of creating himself.
The heart of the film is Bertie’s meetings with Lionel, and they are a marvel. Screenwriter David Seidler, himself a one-time stutterer whose uncle was treated by Lionel, worked on the screenplay for decades (the Queen Mother asked that it not be produced until after her death), and it is a masterwork that merits all that went into it. At age 72, Seidler knows what it is to find one’s voice.

Parents should know that this movie is rated R only for one very brief scene with swear words used as a vocal exercise. It also includes some references to adultery, tense confrontations, and war.
Family discussion: Why did Lionel’s approach work? How did radio change the role of the royal family? How was Bertie different from his brother and father and why?
If you like this, try: the many portrayals of the abdication of King Edward VIII, including the miniseries “Edward & Mrs. Simpson” with Edward Fox

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17 Replies to “The King’s Speech”

  1. Thanks for a lovely review, Nell. This was worth waiting for. I, too, loved the scene in which Colin Firth, as Bertie, struggles to tell a bedtime story to his daughters, Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth. Firth conveyed such tenderness and love in that scene. Firth’s performance was so good that I worried for him that he might not be able to stop stammering after the performance ended. Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter were both splendid. You are right that this movie is anything but a high-toned yawnfest or tiresome inspirational “overcoming a handicap” movie. In this regard it reminds me of “My Left Foot” which I resisted like mad until I saw it and loved it.
    It was also a kick to see Jennifer Ehle (Elizabeth Bennett herself)in the role of Mrs. Logue, interacting with the erstwhile Mr. Darcy. I had read that David Seidler had been a stutterer, but not that he’d had to wait decades to produce his screenplay. As you said, it was well worth the wait. I thought “The Kings Speech” brilliantly conveyed the notion of the sacrifice required in order to resist the tyranny of Hitler, sacrifice that included King George VI himself overcoming his fears in order to lead his people.
    Happy Holidays, Nell.

  2. I know several parents and teachers and this R rating has created some very passionate conversations about the need to change the MPAA rating.
    I have to say how disappointing it is that The Kings Speech was given an R rating. Not only because it is an undeserving rating for this movie, but because there are countless families who should feel free to take their kids to see the movie, especially kids who might benefit from the inspirational story about overcoming a disability (the same story which apparently inspired the screenwriter to overcome his own speech difficulties).
    It would be a great movie to have junior high school and high school history classes attend or watch in school, but with this rating it is unlikely that schools would allow it to be shown as a school sanctioned activity.
    Thanks for including in your review an explanation of why this movie received an R, the best example of why the MPAA needs to make some serious changes.

  3. Thanks, LLC! If you do a search for MPAA ratings you will see I am a long-time critic of their system and this rating is yet another in a series of terrible decisions.
    And thanks, Alicia! I am so glad you thought I did right by this wonderful film. All best to you for the holidays and a happy and healthy new year.

  4. Nell, I didn’t read your review since I haven’t seen the movie yet. It doesn’t open until tomorrow (Christmas Day) in my city. However, based on your rating of A-, I am looking forward to it. Thanks for all the good information you provide.

  5. Nell, there were two scenes of profanity (actually, tirade’s). There was one in the last ten minutes when he is practicing the actual speech, as well as one when he is trying to be “healed” from his studdering problems.
    I think the MPAA got it right for this. If it wasn’t a tirade, I would agree the MPAA messed up, but I don’t get what the Weinstien’s argument is. Between the two tirades (and yes, I did laugh because of how it came out), there were about 30 profane words.
    I do think Colin Firth goes a good job, but I would need to see the list to see if he should win Best Actor or not.

  6. Thanks, Mike. I don’t think the language merits an R, tirade or not, but every family will have to make its own decision about what is right for them. And if you can find an actor who gave a better performance this year, I’d love to know who!

  7. Nell, I thought this was a really good movie, probably the best I’ve seen all year. The acting is top-notch. Regarding the profanity, it was far more funny than offensive, and really, unless they live in a convent, most kids have heard all the 4-letter words by the time they are out of grade school.

  8. I decided to take my 11 yr old daughter to see this yesterday after extensively reading reviews (Nell, you are 1 of the reviewers I always give heavy weight). I feel this is an important movie for kids to see and really wanted my daughter to watch something that showed someone facing his disability with courage and tenaciousness (and take a break from the standard animals-singing type of movies). Colin Firth was amazing in the role. Give the man an Oscar!! Geoffrey Rush was also fantastic. This is a great story of the trust that developed and grew into a true friendship. The movie definitely DOES NOT deserve the R rating. My daughter has heard those same words on the playground and has been previously taught that she isn’t to repeat them. They made complete sense in the story and in fact I think that they were necessary. I am only sorry that more kids will not see this movie because their parents will be scared off because of the rating. Simply ridiculous.
    I was surprised to see King David shown to be such a weak leader. I knew about his choice to abdicate the throne rather than give up love, but the movie really represented him as a very weak and uninterested leader aside from the relationship problem. I wonder if this is true or just written this way for the storyline.
    I was also surprised to see King George being very affectionate with his daughters because my understanding is that he was not affectionate (due to cultural and his own experience) and that is one of the reasons that Queen Elizabeth has difficulty expressing her emotions to others.
    Either way it doesn’t matter, what is important in the story is the way King George faced his disability and overcame with simple hard work and not giving up even when he thought he couldn’t try anymore. Great movie and great review Nell! Happy New Year!

  9. Thank you, Janine! I am so glad you and your daughter appreciated this wonderful film. Your comment will be of great help to other parents struggling with what the R-rating means for this movie.
    There are a lot of good resources about Edward VIII (known to his family as David), including the movies I mention in my review. I agree with you about the culture and context of the time, very different from today. It is fascinating to watch the royal family evolve, a reflection of society as a whole.

  10. Nell, saw this wonderful movie yesterday – engrossing, inspiring and the acting was superb. Thanks for your review and, in my opinion, the language was coarse as opposed to profane (usually defined as “contemptuous of the sacred”) and as one of your other reviewers stated, most children over the age of 4 are quite familiar with the few words used in the two scenes.
    Regards from Winnipeg, Canada

  11. The King’s Speech FINALLY came to our town – and I’m glad to tell you that I watched it this afternoon in a full theater. I agree that the R rating is ridiculous — with all the raunchy content you can see (and hear) in a PG-13 movie, it’s upsetting that such a worthy movie is restricted. On the other hand, it might be that little something extra that convinces my 17 year old that she ought to see it 😉

  12. Now that the film won the “best picture” Oscar, I hope that more
    folks will read the reviews and elect to show this film to their children. I too took my eleven year-old daughter, who had several years of speech therapy. I thought there was a good chance she’d fall asleep during the movie. She’s not a precocious child and her last favorite movie was the new TRON movie. She’s never really sat through an adult film before, let alone one rated R. To my happy surprise, she was mesmerized and inspired. As for the language, she says she hears much worse on the bus to middle school, and at least in the movie they used it for a reason.

  13. A great comment, KC! I am thrilled to hear that you took your daughter and she enjoyed the film. I also hope the Oscar will mean that more families go to see it, perhaps the new PG-13 version with the “bad words” muted. (Though I am horrified that they felt they had to do that and think middle schoolers and up should be fine with the R-rated version.)

  14. In the late 60s/early 70s, my sister came home from college swearing a blue streak. My father backed her into a corner in the dining room and quietly, with great dignity, indicated that he had been in the Air Force and her could out-do her word for word. However, those were not the words he and my mother chose to use in their home or anywhere else, and he would be grateful if she respected their wishes while she was under their roof.

    I thought of that as I cued the DVD to show this movie to my 12 and 13 year olds. They adored it. Replayed the “tirade” scene three times, and wanted to watch it again the next night. None of us use those words, but it was absolutely clear that they WERE trashy, and breaking through in a tirade was exactly what this man needed to do. Muting the words or substituting others would not have the same effect or meaning.

    I am so glad to have checked out your review, Nell, and been encouraged to break through my own objection to the language, and get to the meaning, which I felt was so valuable to convey to my daughters. The production was gorgeous; the acting sublime.

    1. I love that story, Carol! Thanks so much, and all best to you and your family.

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