Study Guide

The King's Speech

The King's Speech Introduction


Release Year: 2010

Genre: Biography, Drama

Director: Tom Hooper

Writer: David Seidler

Stars: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter


This movie was destined to be a smash hit. After all, it brings together all the greatest dramatic elements: a world war, a reluctant king, and a speech impediment.

Wait, what was that last one?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen: The King's Speech is the preeminent movie about stuttering and speech therapy. Does that sound like a boring slog, or something that would have you nodding off into your bucket of extra buttery popcorn?

But The King's Speech is a movie about stuttering in the way that, say, Good Will Hunting is a movie about petty crime, or Cast Away is a movie about tropical islands, or The Shawshank Redemption is a movie about the legal system. Basically, the King's speech (impediment) is a challenge to be overcome… much like a life of petty crime for Will Hunting, a claustrophobic tropical key for Chuck Noland, or false imprisonment for Andy Dufresne.

Except for once crucial difference: King George VI is the King of England at the dawn of WWII, and his voice and inspirational speeches can spell the difference between high morale and a complete lack of faith in fighting for England against the Nazis. 

To paraphrase Will Hunting, "How do you like them high stakes?"

So ol' George (or Bertie to his friends) seeks the advice of Lionel Logue, a lovable weirdo who helps him erode his stuttering problem even as the biggest conflict of the 20th century is kicking into high gear.

This isn't your grandma's historical movie, either. (Even though your grandma probably thinks Colin Firth is dreamy.) Instead of creating a sweeping epic in glorious Technicolor, director Tom Hooper created a movie about the tortured psychology of one of the most famous men of the 20th century. It takes place mostly in the musty garret of an underemployed speech therapist...not in grand ballrooms. It's darkly lit...not filled with lush period piece panoramas. In short, it's a totally surprising take on a pretty established genre.

What The King's Speech does to historical drama is as out-of-left-field as a rom-com set in the Pentagon or a sci-fi epic set in Urban Outfitters.

But, hey, Tom Hooper's bizarre, intimate vision worked. This movie swept the 2011 Academy Awards, nabbing not only the Best Picture statuette but also little gold men for Colin Firth, Tom Hooper, and screenwriter David Seidler.

Oh, and the best part? This story of perseverance, kingly duty, fast friendship and the threat of the Nazis is based on a 100% true story. Although the film took a few liberties with the subject matter (speech therapist Logue probably never had the cojones to sit on St. Edward's Chair, for example), the story is basically lifted straight from the history books. 

So yeah, hold tight to those clichés about truth being stranger than fiction.

What is The King's Speech About and Why Should I Care?

We're going to take a stab at being a fortuneteller: when we look within the swirling depths of our crystal ball, we see into your innermost soul. And what do we see? Crippling insecurity.

No, we're not actually psychics. And we're not being mean, either. We're just giving you one of the fundamental truths about humanity: whoever you are—prince or pauper, Kylie Jenner or a girl who thinks she might as well be invisible—you feel insecure. That's just the way it is. (At least until you become a senior citizen: those Early Bird Special eaters seem to have an abundance of self-confidence.)

But that's the beauty of The King's Speech: it deals with that brutal life truth.

The King of England is just as insecure as the rest of us. It's not always good to be king. It requires more than just lookin' good in a fancy hat—in King George VI's case, you have to give speeches that rally an entire nation/empire against the threat of Nazi world domination. And when you're stuck with a stutter as a result on childhood trauma, making it through those speeches sounds more insurmountable than Mt. Everest.

Don't be fooled: The King's Speech isn't a feel good, saccharine movie. This is, after all, based on a completely true story. We don't see King George miraculously cured through The Power Of Hard Work or The Magic Of Friendship. We see him sweat, get angry, swear more than a sailor on shore leave, give up, get back in the speech therapy saddle, and swear some more. In short: we see him work.

We're not usually ones for spoilers, but we're going to give something away here: George isn't ever actually cured of his stutter. Instead, he learns to give speeches through his stutter. And the result is more inspirational than any thousand "Hang In There" posters: the for-real King George VI gave dozens of for-real speeches during for-real WWII… and he was beloved for it, occasional stutter and all.

Oh yeah—and King George entered into a lifelong friendship with his speech therapist. Yeah: a king (and his wife, the dang queen) became best buds with a lower-class nobody because that selfsame nobody lent the king a friendly ear—along with some elocution lessons—at a time when nobody else would.

So do yourself a favor. The next time you're feeling alone in the vast universe of your own insecurity, wrap yourself in a blanket and watch The King's Speech. We guarantee it: after you're done watching, you'll want to go out do whatever you thought you couldn't manage before. Learn German. Write a novel. Take a chance on love. Wear a crop top. Buzz your head.

Because if King George can overcome four decades of self-loathing and make a rousing wartime speech, you can do anything. (Except fly. You can't fly. Don't try it.)

Trivia

Did you know that screenwriter David Seidler began research for this movie in the 1980s, but the Queen Mother (Elizabeth in the movie) asked him to drop it until she died? Neither of them probably knew that she would live to be over one hundred years old. (Source)

David Seidler had a very personal reason for writing The King's Speech. He also developed a bad speech impediment after his parents were killed during the Holocaust. That's why he was so inspired when he first heard the story of King George VI. (Source)

Funny enough, director Tom Hooper first heard about The King's Speech from his mom, who attended a reading of the script and called her son to say, "I've just found your next project." (Source)

The King's Speech Resources

Websites

The King's Speech at IMDB
Check out this site for everything from the movie's entire cast to what it grossed in box offices all over the world. Here's a hint to the second question: it was a lot.

The King's Speech at Rotten Tomatoes
Click this link to find out just why 94% of critics and 92% of audiences love this movie, making it one of the most popular ever.

Book or TV Adaptations

The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy
Can't get enough of Lionel Logue? Well this book delves deeply into the man's methods and how he actually managed to "save the British monarchy" through his speech therapy techniques.

Articles and Interviews

The King's Speech: The Real Story
This article from The Guardian newspaper helps to show us how King George VI's struggles came to represent Britain's resistance against Nazism during World War Two. Oh yeah, and don't worry—Britain and its allies won World War Two.

Royal Mess
In a sea of praise for The King's Speech, here's one article that tries to take the movie down a peg by showing how it distorts history.

Stuttering and the King's Speech
Check out this article on The King's Speech from "The Stuttering Foundation," a nonprofit speech therapy center. After all, who can give a better account of the movie's portrayal of stuttering than the folks who know this stuff best?

Video

Official Trailer
Hop in the old time machine and fly back to 2010 to check out the theatrical trailer that would have given you your first glimpse of The King's Speech.

The Speech Itself
Who can get enough of the movie's climactic scene? So let's all watch it again, and again, and again…

I Have a Voice!
Yup, it's a real tearjerker. Bring your hankies.

King George VI Stuttering
Click this link to check out the video that apparently made actor Colin Firth (Bertie) tear up when he first saw it.

Audio

The Real King's Speech
You've heard the movie version. So now how about having a listen to the actual speech from 1939 by the real King George VI?

Going Way, Way Back
If you thought it was impressive to hear a speech by King George VI, how about hearing a Christmas speech from his Dad, King George V?

George VI's Coronation Speech from 1937
And here's another great example of what King George VI actually sounded like when he first went on the radio.

Images

George is Looking All Handsome
If only we'd had a young Tim Curry to play him in this movie. Not to say that Colin Firth didn't do a great job.

Brother David (Edward VIII) with Wallis
And here we find Bertie's brother David and Wallis Simpson, the woman he was wiling to give up the throne for.

Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
She died in 2002, and as the Queen's mother she was incredibly popular for almost all the 100 years of her life.