A British period drama about a commoner speech therapist who helped King George VI overcome a stuttering problem right around the start of WWII. In this sure Oscar movie, Lionel Logue is the commoner who is enlisted by George’s tireless wife, Queen Elizabeth after an endless list of other doctors who have failed to help the weary Duke of York with his persistent childhood curse. What starts as a simple story of royalty and plebian culture clash quickly becomes a transcendent tale of the equality of man and the victory of strength in defeating evil.
Logue’s eccentric techniques of physical exercise and psychotherapeutic exploration of the stuttering origins provide the dramatic scenario for these two men to break through their cultural barriers and make a human connection. For Logue’s approach to work, he must have complete control and authority over the patient within his domain, which violates the exclusionary protocol of aristocracy that has been the only experience of George VI. Ironically, Logue’s exclusive access to this personal world of “Bertie” as he was called by only family results in a friendship that would last the rest of his life. In a world of isolated royal loneliness, Bertie finds human connection with a person of social status that was excluded within his cultural prejudice.
When he discovers that Logue is not only a commoner, he is NOT the doctor that Bertie had assumed (sin of sins!), their relationship is almost destroyed, until a rousing speech by Logue proves the very American egalitarian notion of pragmatic results over titles and social status. All the doctors in England could not help Bertie, but Logue’s practical experience as a WWI soldier helping his fellow soldiers overcome shell shock gives this self-made man true equality with any establishment academic or privileged aristocrat. The American Revolution won all over again. Bertie’s compassion for the common man becomes real when he finds his own privilege masks a prejudice.
Of course, Logue himself learns that such equality cannot be abused to violate authority. In one particularly beautiful line of the movie, at the end, both men gain a renewed appreciation for each other when the King calls Bertie “my friend” outside the therapy room, but Logue responds with “your majesty.”
But the King’s Speech is also a bigger picture story about the need for leadership to guide a nation to rise up in strength against evil. A nation gains its fortitude and it’s inspiration from its leaders. The climax of the movie is the King’s need to give his declaration of war against Germany, the greatest of sacrifices. Yet, until then, he had not been able to get through a public speech if his life depended upon it. Walking into the recording booth, he knew that Hitler would exploit his display of weakness (much as Islamists exploit western duplicity in avoiding swift justice against terrorism). If the King of England could not speak to his own nation about sacrifice and warfare because of a stuttering weakness in the face of the Nazi evil, where would the people draw their strength from to join him in the highest of sacrifices? Completing that speech without barely a stutter marked the entry of the English into the War with a fearless strength that would make Germany shudder. Yes, Churchill was the real hero who came from behind the scenes to the limelight, but it all started with the figurehead of their culture standing strong and unwavering, or in this metaphor, unstuttering. A powerful tale of victory and the triumph of the human spirit that means more than personal victory over individual problems.