Posted by: Jerry Garrett | November 7, 2010

Ten Secrets Behind the Making of “The King’s Speech”

It is possible – likely, even – that British subjects know enough of the back story about the life of George VI to fill in what “The King’s Speech” might not convey. But the movie, I believe, assumes the average viewer (the vast majority of whom were born long after this man lived and died) knows more than ought to be assumed.

1948 King George VI Half Crown coin (Jerry Garrett Photo)

International audiences are likely to be even more clueless about King George VI. Knowing little about this King myself, despite having been a 20th Century History major, I came away from the movie with the impression he was a decent man, thrown somewhat reluctantly into the spotlight, who worked diligently to overcome a speaking problem so he could with less embarrassment conduct his official duties. What I did not know, until I followed up and read the excellent and highly recommended biography, “A Spirit Undaunted” by Robert Rhodes James, was that the man went on to distinguish himself as an inspired, inspirational and even eloquent leader. A not-insignificant number of Britons today consider King George VI the empire’s greatest king in 250 years.

1. A Plain Brown Wrapper

To whatever degree the superb film, its cast and crew might be honored – and many critics ranked it an Academy Award contender in numerous categories – singular recognition must be given to Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush for providing the impetus that brought it to the silver screen.

Geoffrey Rush as speech therapist Lionel Logue (The Weinstein Company)

“It’s a special project,” Mr. Rush said, with a mixture of humility and gravitas, in accepting congratulations at an after-party for a Nov. 5 premier of the film at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

He said he had come across the material in January 2008 when an acquaintance shipped a copy of it – in the form of an as-yet unproduced play – to him in the regular mail. “It came in the proverbial plain brown wrapper.”

King George Vi & Queen Elizabeth (Momentum Pictures)

The story recounted the true-life struggles of England’s King George VI, who ruled 1937-1952, to overcome his fears of public speaking, with the help of an Australian-born speech therapist, Lionel Logue. “I didn’t see it so much as a play,” Mr. Rush said, “I immediately saw it as a movie.”

2. Parallel Universes

Mr. Rush had received the story through friends at Wild Thyme, a London-based stage production company; they had started work on its adaptation as a play. But Mr. Rush, a native of Australia, passed it on to contacts at See Saw Films, headquartered in Sydney and London, with the comment that the script would make a terrific movie; and, he further suggested, Tom Hooper (director of the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning TV miniseries “John Adams“) would be an ideal director.

Tom Hooper, Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush talk with Leonard Maltin at AFI Film Fest. (Jerry Garrett Photo)

About this time, Mr. Hooper said his mother somehow intercepted a copy of the script. “She read it, and said, ‘I’ve just found your next movie,’” he recalled. “My own mother! She’s never seen a play in her life!”

Mr. Hooper added, “The only reason I came across the material is because I’m half Australian and half English. I understood the extra layers that element brought to the story.”

3. Now It Can Be Told

King George VI, says writer David Seidler, was his hero and his inspiration as a child. Why? Because each suffered from stammering. Mr. Seidler said he used to listen to the king’s radio addresses during World War and found them “reassuring”. “If the King of England could cope with a stammer so could I,” was Mr. Seidler’s reasoning.

When Mr. Seidler began researching the story behind King George VI and his fight to conquer speech difficulties, he found out about Logue.

The Queen Mum (Daily Mail)

One of Logue’s sons had his diaries; but to use the sensitive material found in them, the son said permission had to come from the Royal Family.

“The Queen Mum, to our surprise and delight, gave her permission, but said, ‘Just not in my lifetime; these memories of my dear husband are still too fresh and painful,’” Mr. Hooper said. “David agreed, but he had no idea she would live to be 186!” (She actually “only” lived to 101; passing away in 2002.)

Writer David Seidler, left, with Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth and Tom Hooper at Toronto premiere (France24)

Mr. Seidler, perhaps best known previously for his writing credit on “Tucker: The Man and His Dream“, kept his word.

4. A Hiccup

The wait, from the time the Queen Mum gave her permission to the time she died, proved too long for Lionel Logue’s son; he had died too. It took Mr. Seidler quite some time to track down Logue’s priceless diaries;  they were found with a son of the son who had died.

Research resumed, was completed, and in 2005, the script began to take shape.

But Mr. Seidler admits he borrowed heavily on the best work of others. (See explanation below; it’s the best kind of borrowing.)

King George VI - "uncredited" (The Royal Family)

5. Uncredited Writers

“Some of the best lines in the movie,” Mr. Hooper readily acknowledges, “were written not by David, but by Lionel and the King himself.” Their impromptu exchanges, just as lively, salty, uncomfortable and witty as depicted in the movie, were meticulously recorded in Logue’s diaries.

6. The “A” Plot

“This is a story of consequence,” said Colin Firth, who portrays the king, “albeit a story on the wings of history. It was a story that was very much secondary to the ‘A’ plot.”

The “A” plot was the drama unfolding around England’s dying King George V, and his eldest son and heir, David – who would become King Edward VIII upon the father’s death. The mercurial David had an Achilles heel; he preferred the charms of unavailable women. The woman who became his downfall was a controversial American socialite, Wallis Simpson, who was, inconveniently, married to her second husband at the time she started to consort with England’s next king.

Adoring Wallis Simpson, with dethroned Edward VIII, greets her idol. (Spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk)

The ensuing scandal would bring down David (Edward VIII); he abdicated as king, less than a year after assuming the throne. While the world’s attention was focused upon the titillating details about with whom the gregarious Mrs. Simpson might or might not be dallying – in addition to the outgoing Edward VIII – the future King George VI was agonizing in the wings. This was the man who thought he would never be king, Bertie (his nickname), struggled to figure out how he could possibly rule an empire, if he couldn’t control his own tongue.

“His only job was to speak,” Mr. Hooper noted of the King’s largely titular role, “and he couldn’t.”

(A Single Man official site)

7. Come Forth, Mr. Firth

Oscar nominee (for “A Single Man“) Colin Firth was the last piece of “The King’s Speech” puzzle. He was cast in the starring role at the 11th hour – and some minutes – into the process.

“They came to me and said, ‘We’ve run out of ideas’ for who should play the lead,” he recalled during an interview prior to the Hollywood premiere. “Can you help us?”

Mr. Firth, of course, merely picked the movie up and carried it on his shoulders. It’s an acting achievement that transcends the difficulty of mastering the material. He also had to master it quickly. “We only had three weeks of rehearsal prior to the start of filming,” Mr. Hooper said. Actual filming was spread out over seven weeks, from mid-November 2009 to mid-January 2010.

(Telluride Film Festival, 2010)

Then ensued a mad dash to complete editing of the final cut; this was accomplished a mere five days before it was shown for the first time, Sept. 4 at the Telluride Film Festival. It was subsequently shown also at the Toronto Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award.

People's Choice Award Winner (TIFF.net)

8. Heavy Lies the Crown

“There’s an added sense of responsibility when playing someone who lived, or has living relatives, especially someone as well known – and beloved – as was this king,” Mr. Firth said. “You are limited in how much you can improvise; how much you can go off on your own.”

It was a heavy responsibility, he said.

“I knew that if I had blown it,” he noted, “I would have really heard it from my countrymen.”

9. Questions of Chronology

As the movie accurately depicts, Logue was sought out in 1926 to work with the future king’s speech, after a disastrous botching of an address at the closing ceremonies of the 1925 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.

But the movie seems to suggest that in 1939 – some 13 years later – the king could still barely make it through a pivotal (to the movie’s plot) radio address.

Future king & queen at Canberra, 1927

Actually, Logue had remarkable success within the first year of working with his patient. In 1927, the prince traveled to Canberra and addressed the Australian Parliament “resonantly and without stuttering”, according to his biographer; after that, the prince was able to speak publicly with only slight hesitations.

But perhaps that quick resolution would not have made as good a movie. Of course, Logue did, in fact, continue to work with and help to improve the speaking of his famous patient for more than 20 years.

“The king actually became quite beloved by his subjects for his speeches and his radio broadcasts,” said Mr. Hooper, “because they knew how difficult public speaking had been for him, and his very voice spoke of that humility and that struggle.

If you are interested in hearing the actual broadcast upon which “The King’s Speech” hinges, listen to King George VI himself in this recording of the original 1939 BBC program:

Guy Pearce plays a mean King Edward VIII (Momentum Pictures)

10. Smoke Screen

The movie is full of nuances that the viewer dare not ignore: Notice how Queen Mary can’t embrace her children; how David can taunt Bertie into stuttering; how Wallis can emasculate David (who likes it). The movie also makes several references to the king’s habit of smoking cigarettes. Smoking, he says at one point, was suggested to him by earlier, discredited advisers because it “relaxes the muscles in your throat”.

Logue campaigns to get the king to stop smoking. It becomes a bit of a running gag.

But the filmmakers were trying in a low-key way to touch upon a serious and sensitive topic: Smoking was ultimately what killed the king.

What killed the king? (BBC)

Some might quibble with that assessment; coronary thrombosis was listed as his actual cause of death. But the king, who became a very heavy smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer and had his tumorous left lung removed in surgery in September 1951. He died less than six months later, a mere 56 years old. (His dethroned brother David outlived him by another 20 years.)

That is how his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, became queen at the tender age of 25.

Elizabeth II's coronation, 1953, with Prince Philip (BBC)

Epi-Logue

What became of Lionel Logue?

(Check out a comprehensive biography “Lionel Logue, Pioneer Speech Therapist” here by Caroline Bowen)

Logue, who came from humble beginnings, was born in Adelaide, Australia in 1880. He studied elocution in public school, and worked for a time as a gold miner. He served during World War I, and began using his elocution techniques to help shell-shocked soldiers regain their speech. He espoused a combination of breathing techniques, exercise, humor, patience and what he called “superhuman sympathy.”

After diagnosing the prince with poor coordination between larnyx and lungs, he prescribed a regimen of exercise and practice that dramatically improved the prince’s condition.

Lionel Logue (NPG)

Logue was rewarded by the king in 1937 with membership in the Royal Victorian Order, a form of knighthood. He was further elevated within that order to commander in 1944. His portrait hangs among the greats in Britain’s National Portrait Gallery.

He continued to work with speech therapy patients, both wealthy and poor, the rest of his life. After his wife died in 1945, Logue joined the Spiritualism movement, which attempted to contact dead spirits through seances and the like.

He died in 1953, about a year after the “greatest friend” of his life, the king.

Jerry Garrett

November 7, 2010

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Responses

  1. [...] To read about the “story behind the story”, just scroll down – or click here. [...]

  2. This is absolutely marvelous. Can’t wait to see the film here in San Francisco

  3. Ever since I read the recent biography of Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mum) by William Shawcross, I have been in awe of the strength of these characters. I can not wait for the film to hit Maryland. A film on the Queen Mum would be just as interesting. Her childhood, how she met the man she married and was thrown into her role of Queen, as was her husband, would be an epic film indeed. And I’m not even Brittish.

    • The Queen Mum was indeed a national treasure in Britain. It will be interesting to see how the casting of the somewhat polarizing actress Helena Bonham-Carter as the queen will play in the U.K. (when the film is finally released there in January). I thought she did a surprisingly delightful job of conveying the queen’s wit, wisdom and charm. Apparently the Hollywood Foreign Press Association liked her too, since they nominated her for a Golden Globe for Best Actress. Thank you for writing in, Karen!

  4. Please excuse my comment above which after reading implies that he was thrown into a role as Queen! On the contrary, he was the King in all ways.

  5. I SAW THIS FILM JUST THIS AFTERNOON. IT HAS MUCH TO COMMEND IT. FIRTH, RUSH, CARTER AND THE OTHERS IN THIS OUTSTANDING CAST REALLY GO OVER THE TOP. THE PLOT IS WELL PUT TOGETHER, THE PHOTOGRAPHY GREAT AND THE DIRECTION SUPERB. ALTHOUGH SOME SMALL LIBERTIES ARE APPARENT IN THE TIMELINE, THEY ARE ONLY TO EMPHASIZE THE HIGH POINTS OF THE NARRATIVE.
    I HOPE IT COMES OFF WELL IN THE VARIOUS AWARDS, BUT AS
    I SELDOM GO TO THE CINE, I CAN’T MAKE AN EDUCATED GUESS AS TO THAT. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN, YOU WILL NOT WASTE YOUR TIME IF YOU DO SO.

  6. My sister and I (both in our 50′s) went to see the film 2 days ago and loved it so much that we are bringing others tomorrow. I knew the story and she did not but we both found it to be excellently played by these actors, funny, sensitive and visually beautiful. It is such a grand story that I am amazed at how well so many intricacies managed to be included without confusing the more naive viewers.

    The audience was full of all ages but mostly with our oldest generation. We live in Baltimore so we could hear a small gasp throughout parts of the audience from those who were clueless about Wallace Simpson.

    As I wrote earlier in this blog, there is an epic film that should be written to portray the life of the Queen Mum. I hope SOMEONE can see that although from this film one might not find her to be too interesting.

  7. I am english and an anti-royalist, but I am old enough to remember King George and to appreciate the supreme difficulties he encountered in a job he did not want at arguably one of the worst of times in recent British history. The film, ‘The King’s Speech’ goes some way to illustrate this and the diminishing cult of obsequiousness, on which the royals seemed to have thrived for so long. I enjoyed it immensely.
    Colin Firth deserves an Oscar.

  8. I have seen this film three times since it’s release here in Washington State. I just took my 15 year old to see it because she loves history, all things British, and also has a slight stammer herself. She cried at the opening sequence which is extremely painful just to listen to, not to mention watch. The whole movie gave me a new appreciation for the King, and the Queen Mum who I always thought was wonderful. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are Oscar worthy! I love Helena Bonham Carter, so that was a treat. How did Colin and Jennifer get along? I wondered how that went since watching them both years ago in the original BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. I also recognized the actor who played Mr.Collins in the original version also. Great casting! Terrific score also by Alexandre Desplat. Love all his work. Thank you for a outstanding story. It has made me research into the King, Lionel and more of history that I did not know. The fact that I found out he really was a great king made the story even better for me.

    • Thanks, Lisa, I appreciate your words. The really amazing thing to me was how Colin Firth came in at the last minute, to play the king, when the producers couldn’t find anyone else even remotely suitable. Firth only had one or two full rehearsals before the cameras started to roll. Yet, he managed to pull off such an accurate and convincing portrayal of someone struggling with a stammer. He has inspired many people, through this performance.

  9. I just saw the movie The King’s Speech. It is beyond beautiful! Brilliant! Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are astounding artists.

    • So happy you enjoyed it so much. Your comment here is very much appreciated. I hope it convinces more folks to go see this excellent movie.

  10. Saw this wonderful movie yesterday. Was a bit weary of going, because of all the oscar nominations, but happy to say hollywood is right. However, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush should both get oscars, so should the director and film itself. Really enjoyed the movie and recommend it.

  11. I am a very choosey movie goer – but I Loved this movie – -such a fine portrayal of courage, and friendship. Beautifully directed, lovely visually, all the proposed Oscars are greatly deservied. The ultimate feel-good movie. Everyone I’ve spoken to has been or intends to go. All success to you all.

  12. How unusual it is – anymore – for H’wood to produce a film like this one. No car chases. No shoot-em-ups. No sex scenes. The raciest thing in the entire film is the dialog, when the King finds release in swearing! All of those involved in the production of this blessed movie should be so proud!
    Colin Firth absolutely nailed his subject’s speech patterns. He has been under-appreciated for such a long time. Geoffrey Rush is always a treasure.
    An absolute gem of a film!

    • Hollywood? I don’t think the USA had one ounce of input to this movie. Give credit where it is due please.

  13. As a Brit living in Poland I had to wait a while to see this film.
    Last night I took my two sons (19 and 15y/o) to see it. I wanted to know if they would enjoy this or be bored stiff because there are no special effects or aliens featured. They sat spellbound. They laughed and giggled and then struggled to hide their emotional pain and sadness . In the car, on the way home, they fired questions at me concerning the Royal Family and were delighted to hear from me how their adored Granddad had been a staunch supporter of his King.
    I cannot describe how good this film is and the fact that it transcended the barrier of age between my family members is truly astounding!
    The acting is magnificent. The filming and direction a masterpiece and the musical score is total perfection!

  14. We just saw the movie and I came home to research Logue. Came upon your blog which I found very informative. Thanks! Now I know where to look!
    As a professional musician I found the movie’s soundtrack to be an emotional spur, especially at the start of “The Speech.” A wonderful use of Beethoven .

  15. What a fantastic film, so beautiful. I saw it yesterday with my husband and his son (we are 72, 64 and 44). We were all very much taken with it. I had a lump in my throath all through the film and I had to fight down tears, it was so moving (but also hilariously funny at times). I have researched Lionel Logue today and I am intrigued to find that his diaries have survided with details of the conversations that he had with the King and that they formed the basis for some of the film’s dialogue. What a compassionate man Lionel Logue must have been, no doubt part of the reason why he and the King remained friends and the Queen Mum wrote a personal letter to Lionel Logue expressing her gratitude for all that he had done.
    Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush definitely deserve an Oscar but so does the film. In this age it is a consolation and reliefe to find that a film with no violence and no sex-scenes has been nominated for 15 Oscars.

    • I agree with you. It’s too bad it was rated R for that one very funny – and essential – scene. Both “Blue Valentine” and “Black Swan” were also rated R. That’s ridiculous! Thanks for your comment.

  16. I am a Speech-Language Pathologist and have been practicing for over 20 years. I love my profession and am thrilled to finally see a film that highlights the work I do every day. I feel that the film is spot-on in its portrayal of the client-therapist relationship, and how it is indeed this therapeutic relationship that lays the groundwork for all progress. Thank you to the brilliant screenwriter, director and cast for such an emotionally accurate account. I was overcome with laughter and tears. You brought my world to life.

    • Thank you for adding such an authoritative affirmation of this great film’s realistic and authentic way of dealing with these issues.

  17. Amazing story telling – a film that surpassed expectation – then home to watch the real version on Sky + (wed 23/02/11)

  18. How can one possibly be a 20th Century history major and know nothing about King George VI. His speech was delivered at the outbreak of what was perhaps the biggest event of the 20th century. Its a sad commentary on our society’s appreciation and understanding of history – even recent history.

  19. I rarely attend movies — this was the first in about 10 years. Having read a biography of King George VI some years ago, I knew about the family life, his stammer & his fears that he would not be up to the task. Listening to his 1939 speech, you can hear that he still struggled with the stammer but used his breathing & Mr. Logue’s suggestion of “ah” in front of some consonants to help him through the speech. I thought all of the actors, particularly Colin Firth & Geoffrey Rush, did a marvelous job of capturing the times, the struggles, the attitudes & the underlying strength of each player. Congrats to all involved in the production for such a wonderful portrayal!

    • Truly a movie all can enjoy, not only for its honesty and sincerity, but for its putting of just the right amount of color into characters who previously seemed so black and white.

  20. While I was a very young man in the post war years, still living in the UK, I recall my mother being well aquainted with the story of the relationship between HM King George IV and the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue. It was not a subject that was known to my friends and I have always wondered how it was that she, not being a worldly woman, knew so much about it. I believe that your Epi-Logue ( above) provides the answer. She, like Logue, joined the Spiritualism movement in the post war years, and I strongly suspect that she heard about Logue and the King from people she met socially who were in the Spiritulist movement. Its just a guess, but it seems unlikely that she would have picked it up from her limited general reading.

    • Fascinating. Thanks for this information.

  21. In a very short word!!! Best movie I have ever seen. I need not write more.

  22. I loved the film and I think it was done exactly right. However, this article says “As the movie accurately depicts, Logue was sought out in 1926.” Princess Elizabeth is depicted in the film as a young girl at the time her mother first contacted Logue when, in fact, Elizabeth was born in 1926. Sorry, but I always notice these things; it’s a curse.

    • You are correct. Good eye for detail. Unfortunately, we are out of prizes. ;-(

  23. Very well written post dear..!
    Please, Find my review below.

    http://umeshpatil.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/the-kings-speech/

  24. The representation of the timeframe really threw me–this covers 1923 to 1939. I knew that Princess Elisabeth drove ambulances during the War, so when this little girl of the film congratulated her father after the 1939 speech, I thought, well, she’s got a lot of growing up to do very quickly. An older pair of children should have been used for the princesses for that scene.

    • Yes. Princess Elizabeth would have been 13 in September 1939. She would more appropriately have been in a Girl Guides uniform. In the movie, the actress portraying her looked about 11.

      • Yeah, if that. But it was instructive to remind us that Elizabeth was once a girl… Priceless.

  25. Saw the movie over Christmas holiday, and loved it so much that I took another friend to see it, and enjoyed it nore the second time. The acting was outstanding, and Colin Firth’s were so convincing that I even flinched when he was trying to get the words out. Mr. Rush was the perfect foil to the King who had to deal with so much protocol and tradition. I have always thought that the King saved England as he, unlike his brother fully understood duty. I would bet history would have been different if Edward VIII had been allowed to stay on the throne. The relationship between the two was wonderfully sincere. I was wondering though does anyone know who suggested Mr. Logue to the king?

    • The movie makers, who had access to Logue’s diaries, suggested someone told the future Queen Mum that Logue might be of help. I can’t confirm that’s entirely accurate.

  26. thank you for sharing this links

  27. Unfortunately this article is wildly inaccurate in how it describes how the production came together. Geoffrey Rush did not recruit See Saw nor recommend Tom Hooper, and Hooper’s mother did not read the play. Instead, Bedlam Productions staged a rehearsed reading of the script they were developing, which Hooper’s mother saw, and it was Bedlam who later approached See Saw to co-produce the film with them.

    • Interesting. The information in this article was gleaned from an exclusive interview with Mr. Rush. Mr. Firth and Mr. Hooper at AFI Fest.

  28. One of my all time top 5 favorite films. The Queen is in that top 5 as well. Geoffrey and Helena were robbed at the Oscars.

  29. Mr Garret,
    I’m afraid that historically many of your facts presented here are not entirely accurate. I notice this emerging as trend in many of your posts. I suggest that, in future, you take the time to research your topic thoroughly. As xowae points out, you also don’t appeared to have actually looked into the production of the film. I suggest proper research next time.

    In this particular case, the 60 Minutes interview of The King’s Speech’ cast and possibly a look at thedailybeast.com’s critique of this movie, would have allowed you to be more accurate.

    Good luck in future

  30. Thank you so much for this post!
    I am writing a work about George VI and “The King’s Speech” for school and I couldn’t find anything good or interesting about the making of “The King’s speech”. Your post is just perfect! And I will definitely search the two biographies you suggested to complete my biography ;-)

    • Glad to help. Here’s hoping to a perfect mark on your report!

      • Thank you (again) :)
        Unfortunately I couldn’t find the biographies in a bookstore and ordering them on the internet would take too long (I’m living in Germany) :(


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