It’s been a while since I did a movie recap, hasn’t it? My lucky husband has just spent the last week in Edinburgh (on a job interview—fingers crossed!), leaving me behind in Douglasville with the dogs. Loneliness and jealousy set in pretty quickly, so I decided the best thing to do was to fill the house with English accents. And it worked! After catching up with Law and Order: UK OnDemand, I turned to The King’s Speech, and I thought: “oh, what the hell, let’s recap it.” So, here we are.
We start off with an ominous close-up of a giant, menacing microphone just waiting for someone to feed words into it for broadcast to the British Empire, which comprised a quarter of the world’s population at the time, according to the lead-in, which also informs us it’s 1925. Once we get a few camera angles on the microphone, we see Bertie and Elizabeth waiting for him to go out and give the closing speech at the Empire Exhibition. With them are Derek Jacobi, playing the Archbishop of Canterbury, and a few Palace suits, all of whom look tense. It’s kind of funny to see Derek Jacobi in this movie, considering he’s played a stammerer himself at least three times. Bertie looks like he wants to throw up. In a room somewhere, Adrian Scarborough, here playing a BBC announcer, introduces Bertie’s speech, as Bertie makes his way toward his own microphone like he’s hiking to his own funeral. Adrian informs us all that Bertie’s dad and older brother have already spoken on the wireless, and now it’s his turn. Bertie emerges into the stadium, which is packed with people, and he stares at the menacing red cue light as it flashes, then stays on to tell him it’s time to get started. He stares at the microphone and struggles to begin. The silence is long and awkward. He finally manages to get started, but before long he hits a troublesome “K” sound when he has to say “King” and it gets uncomfortable all over again. Elizabeth looks like her heart’s breaking for him, and the crowd starts to get restless. In reality, this speech didn’t go quite so badly, and Elizabeth wasn’t even there, but that’s less dramatic.
At Bertie and Elizabeth’s London home, one of Bertie’s doctors is urging him to smoke for a while to open his lungs, then hands him a bunch of marbles to put in his mouth. Elizabeth asks what this is going to do and the doctor tells her it cured Demosthenes. She reminds him that was thousands of years ago, and there’s no record of it working since, and the doctor laughs her off, because she’s just a woman, you know. Bertie tries to speak, but then nearly chokes on one of them, so he spits them out and bursts out of the room. Elizabeth bids the doctor goodbye, then joins her husband in a sitting room, where he’s so agitated he can’t even get his lighter lit. She does it for him and tells him he can’t keep doing this. He agrees and makes her promise to give up with the doctors.
Elizabeth takes a trip through London streets so foggy you can’t see a thing in front of you. She arrives at her destination—an office in Harley Street—and after some difficulty manages to get to the correct floor in the lift. She enters a rather chilly looking, empty waiting room and calls out. Mr. Logue calls back that he’s in the loo, and a moment later he comes out, greeting her as Mrs. Johnson and shaking her hand, which surprises her a bit, since royalty at the time didn’t do much hand shaking, I guess. Logue asks where Mr. Johnson is and she explains that he’s not there because she’s basically doing recon. She tells Logue that her husband needs to speak publicly, and Logue suggests he change jobs. She informs him that’s not possible. Logue says he’ll see what he can do and tries to make an appointment, but Elizabeth tells him that he’ll have to come to them. Logue’s not willing to do so, so Elizabeth pulls rank and tells him who she really is. Logue’s impressed, but unwilling to bend his rules, even for the Duke of York.
At dinner that night, Logue tells his family he had a special visitor in his office that day. None of his sons seem all that impressed, but his wife, played by Jennifer Ehle, dutifully asks him who the visitor was. Logue can’t say, so he changes the subject to an audition he has coming up.
At the royal abode, Bertie heads to his daughters’ nursery, where Elizabeth’s putting the princesses to bed. The princesses are played by two of the loveliest little girls I’ve ever seen. They beg him for a story and Bertie obliges. He hits a couple of trouble spots, but the girls are evidently used to it and wait patiently for him to continue. It’s clear that with his daughters, as with Elizabeth, Bertie’s much more relaxed and stutters far less.
As they head out for the evening, Elizabeth asks Bertie if Mrs. Simpson will be at their dinner that night. She will. Elizabeth asks if this relationship’s serious, but Bertie dismisses it because Mrs. Simpson’s married. Didn’t stop her from pursuing and catching Mr. Simpson. Elizabeth mentions Logue but Bertie refuses to see another doctor.
Logue’s auditioning for Richard III, giving the famous “Winter of our Discontent” speech. Oh, God, community theater. Run, Lionel! I’m currently trapped in a community theater show of my own, and it’s hell on earth. And that’s just some silly murder mystery, I can’t imagine what it would be like to do Shakespeare with people who view this as a fun way to fill some time. Ye gods.
Anyway, Logue barely gets one line in before the director, played by David Bamber a.k.a. Mr. Collins (this cast is like a little Pride and Prejudice reunion, isn’t it?) calls a halt and tells him this is a no go, in part because Logue’s Australian. They also tell Logue he’s not quite regal enough.
Elizabeth’s managed to talk Bertie around, and now they’re both at Logue’s office. A little boy emerges from the inner sanctum and hesitantly tells Bertie that he can go in. The kid’s got a stutter too, but he does pretty well. Logue comes out long enough to praise the boy and wave Bertie in. Once they’re alone, he tells Bertie the boy could barely speak at all when he first started coming to Logue. Bertie silently admires some model planes and Logue explains that his sons make them.
The two men sit and there’s a long pause before Lionel asks Bertie to break the ice. Bertie’s too tense to really speak well, so Logue asks him if he knows any jokes. “Timing isn’t really my strong suit,” Bertie replies. Heh. Logue helps himself to a cup of tea and tells Bertie to call him Lionel instead of Dr. Logue. He asks Bertie what he should call him. Your Royal Highness is the answer. Logue’s not keen on it and offers to call him Bertie. Bertie recoils and tells Logue only his family calls him that. Logue’s fine with that. Bertie goes to light a cigarette and Logue asks him not to light that because he’s pretty sure sucking smoke into your lungs is bad for you (as we all know, he was right—and Bertie actually did die from them in 1952, after he developed lung cancer). Bertie reluctantly puts it away. Logue asks him what his earliest memory is and Bertie starts to get annoyed, telling Logue he’s not there to discuss personal matters. Logue asks him what he’s there for, the, and Bertie snaps that he’s there because he stammers. Logue mildly observes that Bertie has a bit of a temper. “One of my many faults,” Bertie admits. Logue moves along and asks when the stammer started. Bertie insists he always stammered, but Lionel’s the expert and he’s pretty sure no kid ever started talking with a stammer. Bertie thinks about it and guesses he started stammering when he was four or five. Logue asks Bertie if he stammers when he talks to himself, and after some stonewalling, Bertie says he doesn’t, which proves the stammer isn’t a permanent part of his speech pattern. He makes a bet that Bertie can speak perfectly without stammering right there and then. If he wins, he gets to ask Bertie more questions, and if Bertie wins, he doesn’t have to answer them. Bertie wants to wager money, even though he never carries any, and Logue agrees. He even spots him the shilling before handing him a book of Shakespeare monologues. Bertie starts to read the “To Be or Not to Be” speech from Hamlet, and he gives up at the first sign of stammer. But Logue’s not done. He has Bertie put on some headphones into which he’s pumping music, and then he has Bertie read the speech aloud into a microphone so Logue can record it. We hear things from Bertie’s POV (or point of hearing, I guess), so we can’t hear what he’s saying. After a few moments, he rips the headphones off and says it’s hopeless. He won’t even listen to the recording. He decides he’s done with Logue and goes to leave. As a parting gift, Logue gives him the recording.
Sandringham. King George V, played by Michael Gambon, because you can’t have an English movie without Michael Gambon or Timothy Spall (and we’ve got both here!) is giving his Christmas 1934 address. He finishes up perfectly, gets his picture taken, and then invites Bertie to have a seat and urges him to have a go. Bertie reluctantly plops down, looking like a sulky child. He tells his dad he’s pretty sure he can’t do this, but George firmly tells him that radio’s going to change things, because it used to be that all a king had to do was look good in uniform and not fall off his horse, but now they’ve got to be performers. Talk turns to David and Mrs. Simpson, and George gets all worked up over his son taking up with a woman who’s got two living husbands. And on top of that, the Germans are becoming a problem. Who’s going to defend the realm through the marvelous magic of the wireless? He calms down a little and tells Bertie that, with his brother kind of sucking at the whole being royal thing, Bertie’s going to have to pick up the slack. Bertie tries, but struggles and his father quickly loses patience. Can’t imagine how that stammer came to be, dad.
Bertie attempts to recover from the ordeal with some music, a cold compress, and a cigarette. Agitated, he gets up, retrieves the recording Logue gave him, and puts it in the record player. His own voice spills out, and just as Logue told him, he’s reading the monologue perfectly, without any hesitation at all. Elizabeth comes in just in time to hear it and stops in the doorway in shock.
Unsurprisingly, they go right back to Logue, but they tell him that they’re just there for speech therapy, there will be no prying into Bertie’s past or psyche. Logue points out that what they’re looking for is basically a band-aid, which won’t really help the problem at all. But he’ll do what he can. Time for a montage! Logue leads Bertie in some relaxation and breathing exercises, Bertie gives a speech to some factory workers, Logue shows Bertie how to relax by rocking back and forth, which he uses in his factory speech. Logue takes away a cigarette Bertie’s trying to light; Bertie, Logue, and Elizabeth shout vowels out a window, annoying Logue’s neighbor.
It’s now 1936. Bertie paces back and forth in a field at Sandringham, waiting for his brother to arrive via plane. David (known as David in the family) is being played by Guy Pearce. Yeah, that sounds about right for the role of a useless, pathetic jerk. He lands and greets Bertie, then complains about the cold as they head toward the car. Bertie tells David Elizabeth has pneumonia. David’s sorry to hear that, but he’s sure she’ll recover. Bertie agrees, but he’s pretty sure their father won’t.
In the car, David insists that their father’s dying right about now strictly to screw things up between David and Wallis. Jesus. Talk about making everything all about you. Bertie scoffs at the utter stupidity and selfishness of that belief, but David insists that Wallis told him all about it, and she’s terribly clever about these things. Really? She believes people die strictly to inconvenience her? She must be fun to have at funerals.
George is sitting up in his study, dressed in a robe, while a secretary or someone reads some official document aloud to him. The room’s crowded with people, including Queen Mary and David, who’s lounging against some furniture. Poor George must be fever addled, or maybe just plain addled, because he clearly has no idea what’s going on. He keeps mumbling that he’s confused and doesn’t know what anyone’s talking about. It’s pretty sad. The secretary guides George’s hand in signing the document, and George thanks him for his help. George spots his wife and asks her if she’s been ice skating. She says no, and he seems to know that things aren’t boding well for him, because he starts to look sad and takes his nurse’s hand, holding on tightly.
That evening, Bertie goes looking for his brother, who’s on the phone, apologizing to Wallis for being forced to be at his dying father’s bedside. God, what a hateful bitch. David whines and grovels, and it’s pathetic. He finally hangs up and bitches for a moment about Sandringham Time before they go in to dinner. Before sitting down, David asks his father’s doctor how George is doing and hears he’s resting. Mary complains about her son’s tardiness, and gets in a subtle jab at Wallis and David’s relationship while she’s at it. Derek Jacobi moves to smooth things over by sucking up to David for a while. As he’s chattering, he fails to notice the doctor being called away. Not good. Someone comes in and whispers something to Mary, who rises and tells the others it won’t be long now.
George has died. The doctor closes his eyes and the Archbishop starts to pray. Mary gets to her feet, kisses David’s hand, and says “long live the king.” Bertie follows suit, and David tries hard not to wet himself before throwing himself into his startled mother’s arms and weeping. He eventually disentangles himself and hurries out of the room, followed by Bertie, who catches up with him and asks him what that was all about. Instead of saying something sensible, like that he was upset his father had died, David just whimpers “poor Wallis. Now I’ll be trapped.” Well, no, you’ll soon prove conclusively that that’s not the case at all, you spineless jackass. Besides, it’s not as if she didn’t know you were going to succeed to the throne fairly soon, so if she gets all upset over it, it’s really her own fault for not having a bit of foresight.
Logue’s listening to, I think, David’s first broadcast as king while he types up notes at his office. One of his kids urges him to play a family game in which he starts reciting Shakespeare lines and the kids have to guess which play it’s from. One of the boys, a rather sullen, bookish type, gets the first one right off the bat but his brother urges Logue to continue. Logue obliges, even managing to get the sullen one involved. Their game is interrupted by a knock on the door, so Logue asks the kids to make themselves scarce, then opens the door and is surprised to see Bertie there. He’d been told not to expect him. He offers condolences on George’s death and Bertie asks if he can come in.
Inside the office, Bertie reassures Logue he’s been practicing every day. Logue asks if he really wants to practice today, and it doesn’t seem so. Bertie instead focuses on a model plane one of the kids is working on. Logue pours them both a drink and offers a toast in memory of the king. After they knock one back, Bertie tells Logue that he heard his father’s last words were: “Bertie has more guts than the rest of his brothers put together.” Wow. Too bad George couldn’t seem to say that earlier in Bertie’s life, when it might have made a real difference. Bertie tries to talk about his brother, but he gets blocked up, so Logue urges him to sing it instead. Bertie demurs and goes back to the model, saying he always wanted to build models, but he wasn’t allowed. His dad collected stamps, so all the kids had to collect stamps too. Wouldn’t want them to develop individual tastes and interests, now, would we?
Logue asks if it’s strange having a brother as king, and George says he’s pretty relieved that he’s not in the hot seat himself. Logue reminds him that, unless David produces an heir, George is, in fact, next in line. “You’re barking up the wrong tree now, doctor, doctor,” George sings to the tune of Camptown Races. As a reward for doing that (and not stammering), Logue allows him to put some struts on the plane. As he works, he explains that he and his brother used to be really close, and that David helped Bertie hook up with a number of girls, back in his pre-marital wild-oats-sowing days. Before Bertie met Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, he followed in his brother’s footsteps for a while by getting involved with a married woman. It caused his parents all kinds of stress. Logue gently asks if Bertie’s siblings teased him about his stammer and Bertie says they did, egged on by their father, who was under the misguided impression it would make Bertie stop. Yes, making him more self-conscious and terrified would make him stop stammering, something he clearly does when he’s scared and stressed out. Helpful!
Logue observes Bertie working on the model and asks him if he’s naturally right handed. Nope. But being a lefty was considered undesirable back in the good old days, so he was forced to learn to use the right. Logue comments that’s rather common with stammerers and asks if there were any other ‘corrections.’ Oh yes. He was made to wear metal splints as a kid to cure his knock knees. Logue gently asks who Bertie was closest to in his family. Nannies is Bertie’s reply, which is sad enough, but then he goes on to amend that to exclude his first nanny, who was a sadistic psycho who loved David and hated Bertie, for whatever reason. She used to pinch him to make him cry right before he was brought in to see his parents, so of course they’d order him taken away. Bertie can’t get the rest of the story out, so Logue urges him to sing it. Bertie warbles that the nanny would then punish Bertie by not feeding him. This is actually true—the royal children really did have a horribly abusive nanny who particularly screwed with Bertie. It took the kids’ parents years to realize what this woman was doing. She was sacked, but the damage was done. And that’s the sort of thing that can happen when you only see your kids for an hour a day.
Logue brings up Bertie’s youngest brother, Johnny, who had epilepsy and perhaps some form of mental retardation. He was kept mostly out of the public eye and died when he was 13. It was pretty sad, really. Bertie remembers him as a sweet boy.
Logue pours two more drinks and Bertie realizes that Logue is the only ordinary man he’s ever really talked about these things with. He also realizes that he’s almost completely divorced from the lives of ordinary Englishmen, and has been most of his life.
Bertie and Elizabeth are being driven to Balmoral as Bertie practices some of his tongue twisters and Elizabeth snacks on sweets. She catches sight of some of the foresters taking down ancient spruces, which she blames on Wallis and thinks is appalling. Bertie urges her to try and be friendly to Wallis, for David’s sake and Elizabeth tells him Wallis calls her the Fat Scottish Cook. She really did, too. And then she wondered why the royal family didn’t accept her. Bertie teases her a little, and they act all cute and flirty in the back seat of the car. Hee! These two have great chemistry. It’s also nice to see Helena Bonham Carter in, well, not crazy woman mode. Her Tim Burton-ization’s getting a little tiresome.
A jazzy party’s in full swing at Balmoral. Wallis, who, oddly, is being played by an Englishwoman with an American accent, greets Elizabeth and Bertie by welcoming to their “little country shack.” Elizabeth brushes right past her, snippily saying she came at the king’s invitation. Bertie awkwardly tries to make small talk with Wallis for a second while Elizabeth warmly greets David. She moves on to Winston Churchill, who’s being played by Timothy Spall. Eh, not the best casting choice, in my opinion. There’ve been better Churchills, but he’s ok, I guess. Elizabeth asks him if he thinks she behaved badly but he says she’s doing fine. He asks her what David really sees in Wallis, but Elizabeth’s not sure. Nobody in all of history is sure. Across the room, Wallis imperiously dispatches David for more champagne.
Bertie follows his brother down to the wine cellars, telling David he’s been trying to see him. David childishly says he’s been busy “kinging.” What is he, four? Bertie rightly tells him that being a king is perilous these days—it wasn’t very long since the tsar and Kaiser got pitched off their thrones, after all. David sulks that Bertie’s being tiresome, but Bertie’s actually being a man here and tells his brother that this isn’t the best time to be partying it up. Bertie’s also pissed that David had the nerve to install Wallis in their mother’s suite at Balmoral, which is pretty cheeky, to say the least. Bertie tells David he doesn’t care who he’s nailing, so long as he shows up for work in the morning. David wheels on him and tells him Wallis isn’t some fling, they’re planning on getting married just as soon as her divorce goes through. Bertie’s whole face changes to one of shock and complete horror. He trails David up the stairs, pointing out that David is head of the church, and the church doesn’t recognize divorce, so this is going to be a bit of a problem. David then lands a seriously low blow by essentially accusing Bertie of trying to steal the throne out from under him. That, he assumes, is what the elocution lessons are about. Bertie looks heartbreakingly devastated as he tries to explain that he’s just trying to be better at the job he has, but David can’t stop, pulling up a cruel childhood imitation of Bertie’s stutter. Bertie gets increasingly tongue tied and David whirls back into the drawing room with Wallis’s champagne.
Bertie reports the whole scene to Logue, who asks Bertie why he stutters so much with David. Bertie doesn’t know, but he sneaks a swear word into his answer, and Logue picks up on the fact that Bertie doesn’t stutter when he swears. He urges Bertie to give swearing a try, and Bertie starts off with a stream of “shits” before moving right on to a strangely hilarious stream of F-bombs, mixed with a few other choice phrases. Good to get the tension out, eh?
Logue takes Bertie out for a walk in the park and asks him what’s bothering him. Bertie tells him about David’s infatuation with Wallis, and even Logue’s not keen on having a Queen Wallis on the throne at David’s side. He asks Bertie if David can really marry her and Bertie says he can’t, but he will anyway, and it’s wreaking havoc. Logue asks where this leaves Bertie and Bertie tells him that he’ll do anything to keep his brother on the throne. Logue suggests that Bertie might actually make a better king, but Bertie’s sure he won’t, and he shouts that Logue’s dancing perilously close to treason even to suggest such a thing. Logue won’t be cowed and tells Bertie he just wants him to know that he could very well be a king, and a good one, as long as he doesn’t allow himself to be governed by fear. They’re rather symbolically walking through a very misty park, and occasionally the sun pokes through. It’s quite wonderfully atmospheric. I’m guessing they planned it this way, because if they just got lucky on the shot, I’m impressed. Logue keeps pushing, asking why Bertie came to him in the first place. Bertie starts to lose his temper, shouting that he wanted to be able to speak when he’s expected to do so, and he has to do that a lot, because he’s the son of a king, whereas Logue’s just the disappointing son of some brewer from the outback. Damn, Bertie. That was a bit harsh. Logue falls back, looking hurt, and Bertie continues on, lighting a cigarette as he goes.
Bertie secretly meets with Prime Minister Baldwin at Downing Street. Baldwin, played by Anthony Andrews, explains that it’s not the fact that Wallis is an American that’s the problem. It’s the fact that she’s a twice-divorced American. As head of the Church of England, the king can’t marry a divorced woman. Baldwin goes on to say that Wallis hasn’t exactly been faithful to David sexually, and that she’s being courted by Hitler’s ambassador, Von Ribbentropp. He tells Bertie that, if David continues to defy his government, he’ll have to abdicate. If he doesn’t, the government will have to resign. Bertie’s appalled by the idea the country might be left without a government, all so David can nail some unpleasant slut.
Evening at the Logue house. Lionel’s wife and kids listen to the radio while he looks over notes. Mrs. L. asks Lionel what’s bothering him and he says he’s having some trouble with a patient. He says he’s sure this man could be great, and she tells him it’s possible the guy doesn’t really want to be great. Logue allows that he may have overstepped his bounds, so his wife urges him to go apologize.
Logue takes himself to the Yorks’ London residence, where he’s made to wait in an the hall for a while until some flunky shows up to tell him Bertie’s too busy to see him. Logue obediently leaves.
Churchill is meeting with Bertie, telling him that not only will Parliament not support the marriage, but the government also thinks David’s a pretty crap king. He’s not committed, he’s not careful with state papers, he’s basically a waste of space as far as kingship goes. And there’s a giant question mark over where he’d stand if war comes with Germany. And war’s a coming, according to Churchill, and the country will need a king they can stand united behind. Assuming Bertie’s accession’s a foregone conclusion, he asks Bertie if he’s considered what he’ll call himself. Albert won’t do—too Germanic. Churchill suggests George, after Bertie’s father, which lends a nice continuity to the whole thing.
Bertie hurries to see David and asks him how he’s doing. Instead of answering, David flat-out tells him he’s resigning, that the decision’s already been made. He insists he must marry Wallis. Bertie manages to keep it together long enough to tell his brother he’s really sorry to hear that, because they all wanted to make this work for him.
David and Bertie sign the abdication document, as David reads his abdication address in voiceover. You’ve probably all heard it—I can’t possibly do this king thing without Wallis to tell me what to do. I wonder how he would have reacted if he’d known that the woman he loved so much was screwing a used car salesman while she manipulated the heir to the throne? She was a real prize, that one. The VO continues as Bertie and Elizabeth listen to the address on the radio, and then Bertie emerges from his home in full dress uniform to travel to the Palace. A barrage of photographers greet him; there’s even a videographer in there. Bertie brushes past them and travels to the Palace, spotting Logue in the crowd of photographers as he drives past.
At the Palace, Bertie paces back and forth in a vast, dimly lit room before being called into the council chamber, which is a vast, slightly less dimly lit room. There, he starts to silently freak out as he reads a statement to the council, watched over by portraits of his ancestors, including his father, staring sternly out from the canvas.
Bertie returns home and finds Elizabeth and the two girls upstairs, collecting their things before moving into the Palace. Little Elizabeth hisses to her sister to curtsey, and the two little girls bob curtsies to their father, who kisses them, looking relieved to be home. Elizabeth asks him how the meeting went and he just turns and walks away.
Later, Elizabeth finds him in his study, going through official papers and getting perilously close to falling to pieces. He reaches the plans for the coronation and breaks down crying, weeping that he’s a naval officer, that’s all he knows how to do, that he’s not a king at all. Dear, sweet Elizabeth comforts him, and once he gets himself under control, she gently tells him that she refused his first two marriage proposals because she couldn’t really bear the thought of a royal life that wasn’t her own. But then she thought, maybe everyone would leave them alone, what with Bertie’s stammer and all. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to be comforting, but it seems to do the trick.
Bertie and Elizabeth head around to the Logue place so Bertie and Lionel can make their peace at last. Logue, who was apparently expecting them, settles Elizabeth with some tea and then takes Bertie into the sitting room so they can talk. Bertie tells Logue that he knows what Logue was trying to say, and Logue apologizes, saying he went about it the wrong way. Now that’s done, they can talk about something with more substance. Bertie wonders if the nation’s ready for two minutes of full radio silence. Logue reassures him that every stammerer is worried about going back to square one, but he’s not about to let that happen. Bertie wonders, for a moment, if David could possibly come back, since it seems the people still want him, and it’s awkward, having Bertie on the throne when his predecessor’s still alive. Logue urges Bertie to let go of his childhood fears of his father and brother and realize he’s very much his own man. Then Mrs. Logue returns home and Logue rushes to hide, because Mrs. L doesn’t know about Logue treating Bertie. But Mrs. L’s already found Elizabeth in her dining room, and she knows who she is, so the jig is kind of up already. Bertie tells Logue he’s being a coward and throws open the door to the dining room. Logue obediently goes out and introduces Bertie to Mrs. Logue, who drops a curtsey and hesitantly asks if they’ll be staying for dinner. Elizabeth begs off due to a previous engagement.
Bertie reports to the Abbey for coronation practice, accompanied by Logue. The Archbishop shows him around and the two men eye the hanging microphones suspended around the throne. The whole ceremony’s going to be broadcast, of course. Bertie introduces Logue to the Archbishop and tells the Archbishop that Logue will be attending the coronation, sitting in the king’s box with Bertie’s family. The Archbishop’s scandalized, and even more so when Logue asks him to clear out so he and Bertie can do a bit of practicing of their own. Bertie backs him and the Archbishop agrees to give them the Abbey for their own use that evening.
That evening, Logue arrives at the Abbey to find Bertie in discussion with the Archbishop and a bunch of other flunkies. They all retreat when Logue arrives. Lionel clearly knows something’s up, but he tries to brush it off and invites Bertie to get started Bertie’s not about to start practicing with Logue, though, because he’s found out a few things about him. For one, he’s not a doctor at all. Logue admits he’s not a trained doctor, that instead he taught elocution in schools. Then the Great War came, and troops came back so shell shocked they couldn’t speak. Can you imagine an experience so horrific it actually renders you mute? Jesus. Someone suggested Logue try to help some of these men out, so he gave it a try, developed some techniques, and, as with Bertie, he became both a speech therapist and a sort of psychologist. Bertie’s upset that he stuck his neck out for Logue and it turns out he doesn’t have any credentials. Logue reminds him that he never called himself doctor, not even on his office sign, so it’s not like he was ever deliberately misleading Bertie or anyone else. And he’s not just some quack, either, what he did with those soldiers was good, solid experience. Bertie considers this for a few moments. Logue tries to lighten the mood by bending a knee and urging Bertie to lock him in the Tower. Bertie’s still pissed, because he thinks Logue’s gone and saddled the country with a voiceless king, all so he could get a star pupil to brag about. Except he doesn’t brag about you at all, Bertie. He didn’t even tell his wife you were his pupil, so that argument doesn’t stand up at all. Bertie starts to stress out, worrying about being like Mad King George III and letting his people down in their hour of need. His self-pity’s interrupted when he turns to look at Logue and finds him lounging in the throne. Ha! Bertie completely freaks out, telling Logue to get the hell out of St. Edward’s chair. Logue points out it’s just a chair, and people have even carved their names in it. See? Nothing’s sacred. “Listen to me!” Bertie screams, still trying to get Logue out of the chair. Logue asks him why he should listen to Bertie, and Bertie shouts that it’s because he has a voice. He speaks! Logue gets up and tells Bertie he’s tough and he’s going to make a great king.
All the shouting has brought out the Archbishop, who informs Logue that he’s found a more appropriate English replacement. Bertie tells him to bugger off, though in rather politer tones. The Archbishop has no choice but to retreat. Logue thanks him for sticking up for him, and they start their rehearsal. Logue plays the part of the Archbishop, reading off the service so Bertie can practice his responses. He does very well, both in practice and on the day itself, which we get to see in newsreel form as Bertie, Elizabeth, the Archbishop, and the princesses watch. After the coronation newsreel ends, it’s followed up by a report from Germany. Elizabeth asks Bertie what Hitler’s saying, and Bertie claims not to know, even though I’m fairly sure all the royals spoke German back then. Bertie does observe that, whatever Hitler’s saying, he seems to be saying it rather well. Ahh, yes, the power of rhetoric.
And so the years go on. Baldwin meets with Bertie to tender his resignation as Prime Minister, to be replaced by Chamberlain. He frets about Hitler, predicting they’re moving ever closer to war, and apologizing for leaving Bertie at such a time of crisis.
On September 3, 1939 the Logues listen as Chamberlain announces over the radio that England is at war with Germany. Logue looks over at his eldest son, who appears to be prime age to go marching off. Yikes.
A pair of assistants hand Bertie his speech to the nation, which is all proofed, vetted, and ready to go. Bertie tells them to get Logue to the Palace, pronto.
Logue and his son drive toward the Palace, noting the barrage balloons already floating above the city. A siren goes off and Logue Jr. asks if they should find a shelter. Logue tells him to keep going. Logue arrives at the Palace and is immediately handed a copy of the king’s speech. They have 40 minutes before the broadcast.
Bertie gets right to practicing, getting hung up on a few phrases and starting to get frustrated, because his whole position is about speaking on behalf of the nation, but he can’t speak. Logue urges him to try the speech again from the top. Bertie awesomely starts employing every trick Logue taught him, inserting a stream of curse words here, singing a phrase there, waltzing around the room. It’s actually a fairly hysterical tour de force. I wonder how many takes this took. Sadly, Elizabeth comes in to tell them that it’s time to go.
Bertie makes his way to the broadcast room through two lines of attendants, like running a gauntlet. A dog barks, and he stops to greet the Archbishop, who’s nice enough to tell him this is a great moment, like he didn’t already know. Bertie shakes hands with the Prime Minister next and thanks him for being there on such a busy day, then congratulates Churchill on his appointment as first lord of the admiralty. Churchill falls into step beside Bertie and tells him he used to have a speech impediment too (true story—he really did) but he finally managed to beat it. Bertie thanks him and Churchill withdraws. Bertie, Logue, and Elizabeth continue on to the broadcast room, which Logue has curtained off to make it cozier. Logue opens a window for some fresh air while Elizabeth helps Bertie remove his jacket. Bertie tries to do a few exercises, which don’t sound like they’re going so well. Elizabeth tells him he’s going to do just great; then she withdraws, leaving Bertie and Logue alone. In the last few seconds before the broadcast, Bertie thanks Logue for all he’s done. Logue suggests he show his gratitude with a knighthood, then urges Bertie to forget the listeners and just say his speech to Logue as if he were speaking to a friend. The dreaded red light blinks three times, then turns off, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major starts up. This is one of my all-time favorite pieces of classical music, and it really beautifully underscores this part.
After a brief pause, Bertie starts to speak, while the royal family listens elsewhere in the Palace and technicians broadcast the message to the empire. We get to see some of them: Old men listening in a pub, the Logues in their sitting room, workers in their factory, Palace servants in a hall, rich men in their smoky club, Wallis and David in some palatial home in the south of France, an enormous crowd gathered at the Palace gates, Queen Mary at Sandringham (I think), soldiers outside somewhere.
Bertie finishes, and Elizabeth visibly breathes a sigh of relief. The BBC techs actually burst into a round of applause in their…tech room, wherever that is. Logue tells Bertie he did very well, but he still stammered on the W. Bertie tells him he did that on purpose, so they would know it was really him talking. Apparently, that was an actual quote from the real Bertie to Logue, which I think they found in Logue’s journals. Bertie emerges from the booth to a round of applause. Logue notes that this was Bertie’s first wartime speech and Bertie sadly observes that he’ll have to do a lot more of them. Bertie thanks him sincerely, and then they’re joined by Elizabeth, who’s so happy she’s tearing up. She tells Bertie he did very well, just as she thought he would. She then thanks Logue and they all have a happy moment before Bertie joins the other VIPs who were listening to the broadcast. Bertie hugs his girls, who tell him he was just splendid, and then he and his family go out on the balcony to wave to the cheering crowds gathered outside.
We get a little epilogue that tells us Bertie made Logue a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1944. Logue was with the king for every wartime speech, and they remained friends for the rest of their lives.
So there it is, the movie that everyone (rightly) went crazy over during awards season. It’s interesting to note that the screenwriter wrote this because he used to have a stammer when he was a child, and King George was a sort of hero to him. So much so, when he grew up, he wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, to ask her permission to tell this story. She gave it, only asking him not to make the movie while she was still alive, because the memories were just too painful. He obliged and wrote his script, and then just a few weeks before shooting began, the production people tracked down Logue’s grandson (I think), and he dug up Logue’s old journals, which were integrated into the story and really gave it a wonderful human element. Some of the quotes, like that one at the end about Bertie purposely stammering during the wartime address, are taken right out of the journals. Aside from the script, the cast is fantastic. They’ve got great chemistry with each other and it seems like they probably really enjoyed making this film together. The warmth comes through beautifully, and the film wonderfully balances humor, tragedy, and history. Just what you want out of most costume dramas.