Making the Grades
What would you do if you were being considered for a high profile job that required a lot of public presenting, but you had a speech impediment? Chances are you’d politely turn down the opportunity. However, for Albert Frederick Arthur George of the House of Windsor (played by Colin Firth), bowing out simply isn’t an option.
Born the second son of King George V of England (Michael Gambon), His Royal Highness The Duke of York never expected to sit on the throne. Yet the unwanted prospect of wearing the crown becomes increasingly more likely as his father’s health falters and his older brother Edward (Guy Pearce) insists on pursuing a romantic relationship with Wallis Simpson (Eve Best). The American divorcée does not meet the approval of the British parliament, so the Heir Apparent will be forced to abdicate his royal right to reign if he decides to marry her. Meanwhile, the winds of war are beginning to blow again over Europe as Germany rises in power.
Realizing her reluctant husband may soon be forced into the public spotlight, and knowing the advent of radio will demand the stammering Prince regularly step up to the microphone, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York (Helena Bonham Carter) seeks new help for his problems. Under the assumed name of Johnson, she books an appointment with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) an Australian speech therapist.
Unlike the experts The Duke has seen in the past, who have advised everything from filling his mouth with marbles to smoking cigarettes to relax his vocal cords, Lionel takes a very different approach. Along with insisting they work on a first name basis (he calls His Royal Highness “Bertie”—a moniker reserved only for use by the closest of family members), he also employs loud music and wagers of inconsequential sums of money. His most revolutionary suggestion however is rooting out the issue by looking for its possible physiological causes.
With a true “stiff upper lip” the Johnsons decline any probing into their personal lives, preferring to stick to the mechanics of elocution. While Lionel is willing to concentrate on physical techniques and exercises, from experience he knows making any real progress will be unlikely until these personal aspects are addressed.
Family audiences may be confused by the R rating awarded this historical drama by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). The concerns arise when Lionel encourages the tongue-tied Prince to let loose a litany of curses, because people seldom stammer while swearing. This unconventional treatment plan results in the repeated utterance of many mild, moderate and extreme profanities, including numerous uses of a sexual expletive. Similar cussing is heard again in a later scene.
Such foul language is regrettable because there is little other objectionable content, except depictions of smoking and references to immoral behavior. Audiences of all ages could benefit from watching this timid man attempting to conquer his worst fears. Although individual struggles may vary, the story of the shy soul who goes on to become King George VI of England speaks volumes about what can be achieved when a person has the love and support of some strong allies.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The King’s Speech.
What kind of relationship did The Duke of York have with his father and his brother? How did that affect him? What kind of relationship does he have with his wife? How does that impact his confidence?
Lionel says that babies are not born with speech impediments. What kinds of things does he attribute to causing stuttering problems? What things from your past might be contributing to present day troubles? How can you address such issues?