A Look Back: The King’s Speech

If you’re looking for proof of how absurd the ratings system is for Hollywood movies, you might want to look no further than 2010’s “The King Speech,” which won multiple awards in the US and abroad, but also had the distinction of being re-released with a PG-13 rating in order to broaden its audience. Containing no sex whatsoever and virtually no violence (unless you count verbal sparring), the movie received an “R,” primarily because of a scene in which King George VI (Colin Firth) swears like a sailor. However, he does this not from frustration, immaturity or to degrade another person, but because his speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) has noticed that he doesn’t stammer when he swears. This scene includes both British and American curses, as well as a lot of the “f-word,” but it’s nowhere in league with, say, “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Still let’s just say that if the movie is shown on TV with the swears bleeped out, that will be one long bleep.

A couple of things conspire to make Colin’s wife, Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) seek out alternate therapies (including a doctor who recommends smoking), to help her husband overcome his speech problem. One is the invention of the “wireless” radio, and another is the world war going on. Since there are signs that Great Britain may join the Allies, as well as the fact that even being a mere prince in this era requires an ability to give speeches (on the radio and otherwise), Helena tracks down an Australian doctor, or who she believes is a person with the traditional background, who agrees to see Colin and hopefully make his future in public speaking smoother. Alas, there is friction between the two at the start, but after Colin goes home and plays a recording of him speaking in Geoffrey’s office stammer-free (by listening to music), he decides to give him another chance. This particular scene led to the popular question: “Why doesn’t Colin listen to music over headphones while he gives speeches?” which appeared again and again on the IMDB forum and probably elsewhere, too. Answer: Because it would be too distracting. (At least I think that that’s the answer.) Luckily, however, this is just one in Geoffrey’s bag of tricks, which he must dive into more than once in order to help – and heal Colin.

Having worked with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome to help them unlock the source of their pain, Geoffrey knows that one key to success with his clients is the ability to draw them out, listen and gain their trust. However, this proves difficult with Colin, given the natural barriers between royalty and the common folk. But when crisis arrives in the form of his brother (Guy Pearce) falling in love with Wallis Simpson (Eve Best) and deciding to abdicate – never mind the upcoming war – it’s crucial that Colin overcome his doubts and insecurities to take his brother’s place on the throne. And after many disputes and confessions, success occurs when Colin gives a successful speech on the advent of Great Britain entering World War II. Today, rummaging around through a patient’s past is considered a necessity in therapy, but back then, it was a new approach. It’s said that J. Edgar Hoover cured himself of his stutter by learning to talk really fast, but of course, that would not make half as inspiring a movie as “The King’s Speech.”

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