It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for King George VI. He was never intended to be king, but when his elder brother Edward VIII (whom the family called David) chose his marriage to a twice-divorced American woman over the throne, George (whom the family called Bertie) was thrust upon the throne.
He was a man who should not have reigned. He was sickly as a child and had a stammer that made public addresses difficult and even painful to hear. Neither of these things would have affected him in a previous generation. His father’s cousin Wilhelm II had been Kaizer of Germany and a great military man despite his mental illness and paralyzed right arm. But in an age of motion pictures and radio addresses, such a speech impediment might have made Edward an embarrassment. This is immortalized in the moment in the film “The King’s Speech” when Bertie tells his speech therapist, “I will be known as George the Stammerer.”
History, of course, tells a different story. George VI regularly addressed the British people during the dark days of World War II. Although Winston Churchill managed the government, George managed the people.
How did a stammering second son become an iconic ruler of the free world? It was through the assistance of a speech therapist named Lionel Louge. This Australian actor who had helped returning servicemen regain their voices after suffering from shellshock also aided George VI.
Their story is immortalized in the film “The King’s Speech” starring Colin Firth as George VI and Geoffrey Rush as Logue. I was skeptical of the movie, but I have to admit it was excellent.
For some reason, the most powerful moments of the film were the moments when the future Queen Elizabeth, as a child, looks to her father with the practical and almost knowing eyes of a future monarch. She evaluates her father and sees a strength that she wants for herself. As he is constantly reminded in the film, Bertie was the bravest man they knew.
Watch the film. It’s worth it.
(If you’re sensitive to such a thing, you should be warned that there are a couple of moments in the film when Bertie utters strings of obscenities in his quest for learning to speak plainly and clearly.(