Royal history is not my strong suit. I remember some of the big names – Elizabeth I and II, Victoria, some Henrys and Georges and what-not thrown in for good measure – but the order is a bit mixed up. I tend to forget about the ones who didn’t have eras named after them, and quite possibly never even knew who reigned during the big wars of the twentieth century. (How often have we heard about Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain; far rarer did we hear of the king’s role.) I’ve also just spent the last twenty minutes meandering through Wikipedia’s lists of British monarchs. Unsurprisingly, I did not end up on the page for George VI.
This film is in the genre of “moderately interesting historical story where nothing particularly unexpected happens but maybe you learn a bit more about a significant event.” The plot is quite simple: king meets speech therapist, king nearly fires speech therapist, king makes speech.
The speech in question is the king’s announcement of Britain’s entrance into war with Germany, live on radio to the entire nation. Problem is, the king has had a lifelong stammer, and would have been spared the duties of the king if only his flaky brother hadn’t abdicated the throne to run off with his American divorcee girlfriend (another story I knew nothing about until suddenly Madonna made a movie about it). Spoiler alert: he makes the speech.
One of the things I’d hoped to better understand after watching a large number of award-winning films was the three-act structure. I’ve read about it in various contexts, in both screenwriting and other types of stories. However, I’ve watched movies for years without being conscious of the structure, and even after learning that it exists as a pretty standard structure, I still have trouble recognizing where those acts begin and end.
I’m not sure whether my skill has improved, but this movie’s structure seems pretty formulaic. Of course, King Bertie first has an antagonistic relationship with his speech therapist Lionel. Of course, they have a moment where Lionel is revealed to be not what he seemed, thereby threatening the entire relationship. And of course, the king ends up succeeding in his important speech and sharing a creepy nod across the room with Lionel, before the latter fades mysteriously into the background, like any other Yoda-like figure.
The difficulty with films based on real events is that, even if you don’t know the particulars of the story, you have a general sense that things turned out okay. We know coming into it that they wouldn’t have made a movie if the speech was a disaster and it somehow made Britain lose the war against Hitler. Maybe you don’t need shocking twists to stay engaged with a movie, but then again, it’s hard to be passionate about something so bland. It’s not a terrible movie – even fun in a few places – but neither does it affect me in any deep way. Now, Hamilton’s King George III – that’s a king that’ll stick with you!
First Time Watching? No
Final Verdict: Positively medieval