Sunday, 16 January 2011

'The King's Speech' - The Book Vs The Film (SPOILER WARNING!)

Well, I finally saw this film that I've been eagerly anticipating to watch since I read about it as blogged here.

The reviews from those who had seen it have all been fantastic so I knew I was letting myself in for a real treat.

So much so, that I couldn't resist buying 'The King's Speech' book when I happened to fall upon it in Aberystwyth's Waterstones last Thursday. It was written by Lionel Logue's grandson and gave an account of his life, including of course his time as Bertie's speech therapist. It was full of original source material from Lionel's extensive archive and so gave a fascinating insight into what was a truly unique relationship.

I only had 2 days to read the book before watching the film last night but it was worth it to give myself, as an historian, an accurate historical background to the blockbuster that I was about to watch.

The Film Vs The Book
The film didn't let me down and Colin Firth's performance in particular was superb. He is rightly being touted for a Best Actor Oscar for his performance and I hope he gets it.

The casting all round was excellent with Helena Bonham Carter playing a very convincing Queen Elizabeth. Michael Gambon looked and acted every inch the patriarchal George V whilst Guy Pearce at times looked so strikingly like his alter ego King Edward VIII that it was almost spooky. I've always liked Timothy Spall and he gave a Churchillian performance as the soon-to-be Prime Minister.

Ramona Marquez (better known from the BBC1 hit programme, Outnumbered), and Freya Wilson were adorable as the Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth whilst Derek Jacobi played a convincing Archbishop Cosmo Lang.

Fact or Fiction?
There were some historical anomalies in the film such is the way of film-making. Particularly was the fact that Bertie and Logue only met in 1934 in the film whereas they actually met back in the mid '20s after his shambolic performance at Wembley. It's also greatly unlikely that they had the 'spat' that was played out in the film during the abdication crisis. By the book's accounts, by 1936, they were already very close having had a 10 year association by that time. But by tightening the chronology, the film makers added extra drama and suspense to the plot as is their wont.

There were other minor historical issues such as Churchill's apparent criticism of Edward VIII at the climax to the abdication crisis when in fact he was one of his greatest supporters.

But there were some lovely true to form references such as George V's statement that David would ruin himself within a year and also the fact that Bertie delivered his speeches standing up instead of sitting down because that made him feel more comfortale. Also having done so the fact that he then went to have an obligatory photo of him sitting at his table to make it look as if he gave his speeches from his desk like his father did when in fact he didn't. By his side throughout as was the case in real life as illustrated in the book, was Logue (who would remain lifelong friends with Bertie until they died in 1953 and 1952 respectively).

The moments between Bertie and his children were particularly tender and lent themselves to the descriptions that were in the book of a loving father and a close family unit.

It would have been nice to have seen the film move on throughout the war years to 1945 and not just conclude in 1939 but then that's just me.

A Superb Muscial Score
So taking the pickyness out of it, the film itself is without a doubt a run-away success. What topped it off for me was the music score. That and the choice of classical music during the film was great. The choice of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik during Bertie's first session with Logue was an excellent choice. But the film came to a wonderful conclusion for me with Bertie's war-time speech in September 1939 with the haunting sound of the 2nd movement to Beethoven's 7th Symphony in the background. It has always been one of my favourite pieces of classical music and it was ideal for the moment. Bravo!

So go and see the film for a cinematic feast and read the book as well for the full historical context to what really was a fascinating relationship that changed one family's life and in doing so, played a significant contribution to the future of our country.

PS - For an Oscars update, please read by blog posts from January 25th here and February 28th here.


  1. I want to see it and this isn't really a spoiler because we all know the basic history. It's my birthday next week so we are going to the cinema, my choice of film, so this has sealed it. Thanks.

  2. It's a spoiler in that it gives the score away and the like but as you say, the basic history is there for all to read up on anyway.

    Definitely recommended - a wise birthday choice! Enjoy!

  3. One of the most uplifting films about behind-the-scenes history: no conspiracies, no whislteblowers, no silent terror. (Okay, maybe just a touch of that last one.) The big moment of the film for me is when Logue first calls the King "Your Majesty," which he offers in trade for a very distinct royal recognition bestowed upon him. I had tears in my eyes. This film is truly a MUST-SEE. The entire cast is brilliant, and Firth delivers the performance of a lifetime with sympathy, passion and--a trait perhaps learned from the real George VI--guts.