It seems as though historical films never get all of the details right about the actual events. Look up the Wikipedia article on any movie based on a real event and you’ll find a section entitled “historical accuracy” devoted to tearing apart the work for any liberties taken. Sometimes, these creative choices can be beneficial to the plot. In The Sound of Music, it is very satisfying to watch the Von Trapps climb over the Alps at the end, and it makes for a much better conclusion than watching them board a train as the actual family did in real life. Some changes in these films, however, are taken to appease the filmmaker’s agenda, such as when Michael Bay chose to show the Japanese bombing the hospital in Pearl Harbor. Although I feel that changes such as this can be harmful to both the art of film and our society in general, I don’t believe that we should discard all historical movies just because of their inaccuracies. No matter what care is put into the filmmaking process, there is no way that all of the facts of an event can be crammed into a two-hour window. With that in mind, I recommend that we sit back and watch these films, overlooking the minor differences between the real story and the fiction, and look instead at the movie’s deeper meaning. With that in mind, let’s dive into The King’s Speech.
In this 2010 Tom Hooper drama, Colin Firth plays Prince Albert, the Duke of York and the son of King George V. From a very young age, Albert has had a strong stutter in his speech, something that both he as his wife Elizabeth, played by Helena Bonham Carter, are concerned about because of the great amount of public speaking that he has to do. After looking to a number of different sources for a cure, Elizabeth finds a man named Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist played by Geoffrey Rush. After an unpleasant first session that ends up yielding Mr. Miyagi-style results, Albert agrees to have regular sessions with Logue, whose methods have a profound effect on the Prince. The two soon become good friends, and Albert looks to Logue as someone to confide in about his personal problems as well as his stammer. As Albert’s speech improves, other ares of his life spiral downward as his father’s health becomes worse in his old age and his disgraceful brother, David, plans to accede to the throne. Albert approaches a time in his life that will require him to make many hard decisions if he wants to protect both his country and his family’s image from his brother’s recklessness.
Colin Firth won the Academy Award for Best Actor because of this movie, and I personally believe that he was completely deserving of the accolade. Firth’s portrayal of the stammering Prince Albert is both convincing and heartbreaking, showing both the difficulties of being a public figure with a speech impediment and the cause of his insecurities. Firth also does a great job showing a character who gradually improves over the course of the film. Although I’ve never had any sort of speech problem, I can relate to the character of Albert as someone who spends a great deal practicing a certain craft. The scenes of Albert’s early sessions that depict him struggling through speech exercises reminded me of the first few years of my guitar playing, in which I had great difficulty with most passages and exercises that I attempted. I also appreciated how he is still not the perfect speaker at the film’s conclusion. Practicing your craft takes many years, and it’s something that can always be improved upon. I believe that anyone who is involved with an occupation or hobby that requires great practice can relate to Albert’s struggle, and Firth’s performance is very inspiring to all who are hoping to become skilled individuals.
The King’s Speech was also very unique in the direction and feel of the movie. I’ve noticed over the past several years that there are more and more films being nominated by the Academy with incredibly dark subject material. The King’s Speech is, essentially, a very basic tale about a man overcoming the obstacles in his life and taking hold of his responsibilities. There’s no uncomfortable scene of domestic abuse, no gratuitous nudity (or any nudity at all, for that matter), and no bizarre monologues about milkshakes. All of these qualities can still be present in a great film and can be used to enhance the film, but none of them were necessary in The King’s Speech. Despite the simplicity of the story, the stylish and masterful direction of the film keeps the plot from feeling stale. There isn’t a single wasted scene in the film; every frame is devoted to the lives and struggles of Albert, Logue, and Elizabeth.
Another thing that I found interesting about this film is that it was rated R for language. However, there were only two scenes that used the sort of language that warrants an R rating, while most R-rated Oscar-nominated dramas contain harsh language throughout the entire running time. This means that the filmmakers found these two scenes so necessary to the plot that they were willing to suffer with the R-rating, a risky choice, as it is well-known that R-rated films generally don’t do as well at the box office as PG and PG-13 flicks.
As I stated at the beginning of this review, the film isn’t completely accurate to the actual historical account of Prince Albert and Logue. The entire timeline of the film is shifted about ten years after the two began their sessions so that Hooper could show both Prince Albert’s struggle with his speech and with his brother, as well as the Duke’s response to Hitler’s conquest of Europe. It is also well-known that it took a much shorter amount of time for Albert’s speech to improve than the film suggests, as he was praised for his speech at the Australian Parliament in Canberra in 1927, only seven months after his first session with Logue. However, I believe that these minor changes do not tarnish the overall significance of the film. Despite the deviations between the story presented here and the actual tale of the Duke of York, we are still given a film that enriches our understanding of Prince Albert and that can encourage us to overcome our own shortcomings, as well. This film is solidly on what I’ll call the “Von Trapp Mountain-Climbing” side of the historical inaccuracy line, and it’s a culturally significant work that is both educational and inspiring.