×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Auds entertained by pics’ royal pains

'Speech' brings street-level wisdom to aristocratic arrogance

There is a scene in “The King’s Speech” that illustrates the impenetrable chasm between the lofty heights of British royalty and the stumbling, forelock-tugging serfs who ostensibly represent the majority of the House of Windsor’s subjects.

Stunned to discover King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, in her shabby little drawing-room, the déclassé Myrtle Logue (Jennifer Ehle), wife of the elocution instructor at the heart of the tale, emerges from her incredulity long enough to whisper, “Will their majesties be staying for dinner?”

Airily, the queen (Helena Bonham Carter) responds, “We’d love to — such a treat,” before citing a previous engagement, the pretext delivered with the gentlest brush of condescension. She might just as easily have said, “Never in a million years.”

Moments such as these, revelatory as they are about Britain’s domineering ruling classes, have always mined American film audiences’ desire to experience the rarefied regality that, along with narcissism and simmering scandal, seems to pervade life in the stately homes of England.

Popular on Variety

Even more fascinating are movies in which commoners knock the high-flung down a peg — street-level wisdom as antidote to aristocratic arrogance. “The King’s Speech” is one such film.

“It’s almost as though the only guy who could save Bertie was someone from another class and cultural level,” says director Tom Hooper, using the royal family’s nickname for King George VI (Colin Firth), whose tempestuous relationship with the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) leads the self-conscious monarch to overpower his affliction and become the wartime leader that few predicted he could be.

No one in the king’s own circle could help him, Hooper says, because they were constrained by the same limitations of protocol that had for years prevented the future monarch himself from seeking professional counsel elsewhere. Logue, on the other hand, feels no such inhibitions, and casually tells his patient, “You’re not my king.”

In the two protagonists’ most acerbic confrontation, as they walk through the fog-shrouded palace grounds, Logue attempts to counter Bertie’s reluctance to ascend to the throne by telling him that he is “not some middle-class banker.” Riled, Bertie goes on the attack, calling Logue “the disappointing son of a brewer, a jumped-up jackaroo from the outback.”

Hooper, offspring of an Australian mother and an English father, describes members of the royal family as “terribly repressed,” and their relationship with their subjects as complicated.

“People respect them, but at the same time they’re intrigued by the soap-opera aspect,” he says. “The royal family is seen as enshrining an idea of class and privilege, which is possibly inappropriate in a modern democracy.”

The king’s subjects, fully aware of his speech impediment, rallied around him, hoping as they gathered around their radios that he would not drown in protracted silence.

“Everyone wanted him to succeed,” Hooper says. “He broke down the class differences because his struggle was universal. It became a metaphor for the war effort. If the king could overcome his stammer, then plucky little Britain could overcome Nazi Germany.”

Similar discrepancies in status between royals and their subjects drive the tales in “Mrs. Brown” (1997), in which a rough-around-the-edges commoner befriends Queen Victoria, to the transformation of both, and “The Queen” (2006), a disquisition on the current monarch’s passive and conflicted reaction to the sudden death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

In the latter film, it is the down-to-earth advice of Prime Minister Tony Blair, the grandson of a shipyard worker, that finally persuades his monarch to empathize publicly with the nation’s grief.

“Will someone save these people from themselves?” asks an exasperated Blair, in an aside meant to convey not only his wonder at the royal family’s aloofness but his dismay at their inability to see the damage it causes.

In researching “The King’s Speech,” Hooper recalls watching an archival newsreel showing George VI delivering a written address at the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow in 1938.

In the clip, the clearly nervous king manages to get through his remarks, but they are halting and hesitant, and the newsreel’s editors — in an effort to fill the pauses — occasionally cut away to flags and to people in the crowd, who, significantly, appear to be highly supportive of their sovereign.

That speech, Hooper says, “became Colin’s most important tool” in portraying the king’s affliction. And, he adds, “it brought me to tears.”

More articles from Eye on the Oscars: The Director Preview:
Auds entertained by pics’ royal pains | The ‘Inception’ phenomenon | A live-action approach to animation
First Person: Six helmers behind some of the year’s most buzzed-about pics talk about their inspiration
Darren Aronofsky | Danny Boyle | Lisa Cholodenko | Debra Granik | Mike Leigh | John Cameron Mitchell

More Film

  • Julia Fox Uncut Gems

    Saoirse Ronan, Julia Fox and More Actors Discuss the Women Who Inspired Them

    In her first film role, Julia Fox blazes into “Uncut Gems” as Julia, the ambitious but loyal mistress of Adam Sandler’s jeweler. It’s a complex character the audience can’t always read. To play Julia, Fox says she had a couple inspirations. “My younger self, for sure,” she admits. “Looking at myself retrospectively, how I survived, [...]

  • Disney's MULAN..Mulan (Yifei Liu)..Photo: Film Frame..©

    Mulan Goes to War in Disney‘s Action-Packed Trailer

    Hua Mulan readies to put her life on the line for her community and family in a new trailer for Disney’s live-action “Mulan.” Based on Disney’s 1998 animated classic, “Mulan” tells the story of a woman (portrayed by Yifei Liu) who poses as a man to fight in the Chinese army. The footage, dropped Thursday, [...]

  • My Grandfather's Demons

    Marmita Films Boards Portuguese Feature ‘My Grandfather’s Demons’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    France’s Marmita Films has joined Sardinha em Lata, Caretos Film and Basque Films as a co-producer on the upcoming Portuguese 2D-stop motion hybrid feature “My Grandfather’s Demons.” Having impressed as a project at Seville’s 3D Wire – now Weird Market – where it won the La Liga Feature Project Award, Nuno Beato’s “My Grandfather’s Demons” [...]

  • And Then We Danced Swedish Georgia

    Western Europe Looks for Oscar Glory

    With wins for Mexico, Chile and Iran in the past three years — and South Korea dominating conversation in the international film Oscar race this year — the Academy has been taking some time off from its usual Europhilia in the category. This year, however, a number of standout contenders look to ensure the Continent [...]

  • fotos filmowy Misz Masz - Kogel

    Why Some European Blockbusters Won't Hit U.S. Screens

    It’s become a Bavarian rite of summer. With Germany and the rest of continental Europe swooning through the dog days of August, local audiences flock to the cinema to catch the latest capers of detective Franz Eberhofer, the star of a crime comedy franchise based on a series of best-selling novels. As temperature soar, so [...]

  • Pain and Glory Penelope Cruz

    Oscar's International Film Race Hits Road Bumps

    “I grew up watching foreign-language films,” director Alfonso Cuarón quipped after his “Roma” won the Oscar for foreign-language film last year. “Learning so much from them and being inspired. Films like ‘Citizen Kane,’ ‘Jaws,’ ‘Rashomon,’ ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Breathless.’” For foreign-language committee co-chairs Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann, who had taken over the position that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content