Thursday, February 24, 2011

The King's Speech

Oscar night is coming up and I’m rooting for The King’s Speech. And not just because I’ve had a major crush on Colin Firth for years. What a terrific movie: great writing and great acting.

The story describes how the George VI overcame his stammer. It's also about the change to the monarchy brought about by modern communications, in this case radio. Suddenly it mattered how the king spoke. For a century or two the British royal family had basically been German and married members of German royal families. Even Edward VII is said to have spoken with a strong German accent. The family changed its name to Windsor from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha during World War I and from then on spoke like members of the British upper classes. But with radio bringing the king and his voice into millions of homes, sounding English wasn’t enough: he had to be articulate too.

Imagine having a disability and needing to overcome it for your job. And not a job you’ve chosen, but one that’s been thrust upon you by birth and circumstances. The hereditary ruling system, which almost everyone now agrees is absurd, could be tough for the rulers too. It didn’t matter what you wanted: if you were next in line you toed the line and did what had to be done. The hero of the book I’m writing now is the heir to a dukedom and has a secret disability that makes him unsuited to his eventual position. He starts out more like David, the elder brother in The King’s Speech who shirks his responsibilities and renounces the throne. But in the end he turns into more of a Bertie and does what has to be done, even though apparently deeply unsuited to the job. Luckily, like George VI whose relationship with his queen is so touchingly depicted, he has a heroine to help him.