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Movie Review: The King’s Speech

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Poster for "The King's Speech"It’s December 1936 and the little princesses, Lilibet and Margaret Rose spot their father during their last hours at the family’s private London home.

“Your Majesty!” they whisper to the new King George VI – surely among the first of his subjects to offer such fealty.

But as their daddy, he bends to cuddle them and the three share a silent loving gaze of such intense, bewildered, solemn,  fearful desperation that my heart breaks and I continue to sob shamelessly until after the final credits roll.

The cinematic moment may be fiction but it’s small wonder that The Queen – doubtless the last living eye-witness to these events – also found The King’s Speech ‘moving and enjoyable’ when she watched it during a private screening at Sandringham House.

This is the same loving woman who reportedly clasped her hands together on meeting Geordie Greig, editor of the London Evening Standard newspaper and grandson of surgeon, Sir Louis Greig, recalling how the King and Greig had been “so close”.

But this astonishing movie, created with the deepest loving-care over a lifetime by Anglo-American writer, David Seidler is not about that friendship but another that the King developed with an unqualified Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue.

I have pondered long and hard on the power of this particular film. Why has it been the subject of so much attention and debate? What for example, caused a wholly disinterested audience at a cinema in Arizona, USA to ‘rise as one and applaud at the finish’?

Is it partly because of the linked scandal about King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson? Is it the prurient glee caused by watching a monarch swear?

Is it because it is a classic tale of heroism where a simple, if royal personality becomes great for the hour in which he must accomplish Herculean deeds?

Is it because he is empowered by the very disabilities which he believes prevent him from fulfilling his duties?

Or have we been touched to the core by the very commonality that may make a humble man a king?

Perhaps it is not one of these but all of them together. Senior members of the real-life Royal Family are blessed with a mutual sense of destiny layered with an exceptional weight of history that the film textures with a Shakespearian nobility and a near-biblical air of service over self.

This can be no accident. Seidler is the grandson of Jewish Holocaust victims, whose stutter began on board ship as he and his parents – the survivors – sailed from London to New York to escape The Blitz.

Moreover Colin Firth, who plays the King with understated, unassuming grace, is the son of Christian missionaries. Both of them must be aware of something that, to my knowledge has quite oddly escaped general attention.

They must both know the biblical stories of Moses The Law Giver who brought the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land without reaching it himself.

One review has described Firth’s portrayal of the King as “a portrait of that recurrent figure, the stammerer as hero.”

The origins of such popular, reluctant heroes may well have been propagated by the Bible and according to popular Jewish sources, Moses possibly had a speech defect. Further, like King George VI, scholars believe he was also left-handed.

Physician Dr Henry A Garfinkel writes in the summary of his paper,”Why Did Moses stammer? And was Moses left-handed?”(Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, May 1995):

“Moses, the great lawgiver, ‘ … the chief of the prophets’ according to Maimonides, probably had a speech defect. ‘I am not a man of words … for I am of slow speech, and of a slow tongue’, Moses states, and later he pleads “… I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?’ Most authorities consider these quotations to mean that he stammered.”

Dr Garfinkel bases his conclusions on “the last few sections of the Book of Genesis and the early part of the Book of Exodus” together with stories from the Midrash – Jewish interpretations of Biblical tales which are not initially apparent.

He concludes: “Moses probably suffered from a stammer. There are known factors which can produce such a speech defect and a plausible explanation for his stutter is presented. It is reasoned that he was in a deep hypnotic trance brought about by intense mental and physical turmoil when he was aged three. Associated injury to his mouth and tongue probably resulted in permanent damage to his speech.

“Evidence is also presented suggesting that Moses may have been left-handed. His prophetic ability as an adult may well have been aided by his skill in achieving a deep trance state which he first acquired at the time of his ordeal in Pharaoh’s palace.”

Debates about this film as a work of art and its arguable flaws will continue for a long time. This is a measure of its strength. I believe it’s the best British movie for 20 years and I add my voice to those decrying the proposed closure of the UK Film Council. Should the council be abolished, it won’t be possible to make glorious films like this in the future.

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About Natalie Wood

Born in Birmingham, England, U.K., I began working in journalism a month before the 1973 Yom Kippur War began. I emigrated from Manchester to Israel in March 2010 and live in Karmiel, Galilee where I concentrate on creative writing, running several blogs and composing micro-fiction. I feature in Smith Magazine’s Six Word Memoirs On Jewish Life and contribute to Technorati, Blogcritics and Live Encounters magazine.