Tag Archives: England

Why is ‘The King’s Speech’ a good movie?

the-kings-speech-movie-posterI’ve just watched the movie ‘The King’s Speech’ and thoroughly enjoyed it. For me to enjoy a movie is in itself a rare and wonderful thing. I don’t as a rule watch movies and my taste is limited. I loved the original ‘Star Wars’ films and the LOTR films. And ‘Bambi’. So now, days later, I’ve begun to wonder why I enjoyed ‘The King’s Speech’ so much. And I think we, as writers, could learn from the answers.

In essence this is an exceedingly simple tale. The man who will be king has a speech impediment. When the story starts, he is a young prince whose stammer leads to public humiliation as his failure on the wireless is broadcast to millions. Then he meets a man who fixes him. In the end he delivers an important speech to the world and does so effectively.

This is a story set in the 1930’s, when the British Empire was still a powerful entity and when Adolf Hitler was a rising threat in Germany. George V was still on the throne, his oldest son, David (who would become Edward VIII) was next in line and Bertie, the stutterer, was the Duke of York. Then David has his fateful love affair with Wallis Simpson, almost bringing down the Monarchy, a stalemate finally ended when he abdicates. The movie includes cameo appearances from Winston Churchill, Alec Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, all pivotal players in the inevitable spiral into war in 1939. But all of this is just scenery, backdrops to the main play which is the relationship between two men who could hardly be more different. The prince, born into royalty and Lionel Logue, the self-taught Australian speech therapist who refuses to call his client anything but Bertie.

So much of this movie is simply conversations between two men as Lionel breaks down Bertie’s barriers to discover the reason why he stutters, revealing a tyrannical father, abuse by a nanny, over-expectations. All of this has resulted in feelings of total inadequacy, which Bertie must confront as the horrifying possibility of him having to be king edge toward probability.

There is conflict between Logue and Bertie, of course. But also between Bertie and his brother and his father. Bertie’s wife, Elizabeth, is unfailingly supportive and we are given a glimpse into the relationship between Bertie and his two daughters – one of whom is now Queen Elizabeth.

Why does this movie work? There are no gruesome deaths, no car chases, no violence of any sort. Nobody steals anything. The background facts are well known. There is no suspense, no horror; just a man with a speech impediment and a man who treats him.

The screenwriters have created conflict in a number of ways, the most important being the differences between the two men, one a Royal Prince, the other an Aussie larrikin.  To start with we are shown Bertie’s excruciating first radio speech, then Bertie’s initial reluctance to play by Lionel’s rules in his home (‘my castle, my rules’). But  the screen writers have, I suspect, bent the truth just a little to increase the tension. For instance, in the movie Bertie learns at his rehearsal for the coronation in Westminster Abbey that Lionel has no formal qualifications, that despite his Harley Street address, he is no doctor. I find that a little bit hard to believe, but it adds to the tension. In similar vein, there are several countdowns to Bertie having to make a speech and we’re along for the ride. In the end, when Bertie delivers his ‘we are at war with Germany’ speech, the audience inevitably remembers that first speech which he completely mangled. And so, indeed, does he. After a slow start, Bertie delivers. One of the great things about this movie is he is not miraculously cured. Lionel enables him to function, but he hasn’t waved a magic wand. So for writers, use conflict, contrive conflict even if it is conflict within an individual and you can have a gripping story.

Of course, the acting is just terrific. Colin Firth does a wonderful job of showing Bertie’s shyness, his lack of confidence and his desperate attempts to overcome these characteristics as a Royal Prince. I cannot imagine how hard it must be for an actor to convey a man with a stammer – for me it was absolutely convincing. And Geoffrey Rush is great as Lionel Logue.

One other little tip for us writers – the way detail was sprinkled in. The wonderful scene where a man leads a car containing the Duchess of York up Harley Street through a London fog, Bertie storming off through a park with a horseman riding the other way, glimpses of Lionel’s family – most especially his intelligent oldest son who drives the car to take his father to meet Bertie before the final speech. That boy would be caught up in the coming war. And the scenes of Bertie with his daughters, the dying king, David and Mrs Wallis.

Just a simple little movie about two blokes talking to each other. Wow.

N. Gemini Sasson – Worth Dying For

Picture of cover, Worth Dying ForN. Gemini Sasson’s new book, “Worth Dying For” is a fitting successor to the first book of her seminal series on the life of Robert the Bruce, “The Crown in the Heather”.

The book opens with a vivid, brutal, no-holds-barred account of the Battle of Bannockburn, just outside Stirling in Scotland, where King Robert and his motley army of Scots overcame the vastly superior army of King Edward the Second. Written in present tense using the voice of King Edward, the prologue is at once harrowing and terrifying as the King of England sees his invincible army swept away, leaving him in mortal danger of capture. And thus is set the scene for the rest of the book as the author leads us from Robert’s greatest defeat to this shining pinnacle of his success.

We join Robert where we left him at the end of ‘The Crown in the Heather’, bowed and battered, penniless, without an army and with very little hope after his crushing defeat at Balqhidder. If he is to succeed, he needs money and a strategy to unite the warring families of Scotland. His stoutest ally, James Douglas, has his own demons to fight. To Robert’s strategic leadership he adds his skill as a tactician. Sasson shows these two threads as the two men claw their way back to a position where they can once again tackle the Eternal Enemy – England.

Meanwhile, Longshanks, scourge of the Scots, loses his final battle and is succeeded by his petulant, self-centred son, Edward II. While the Scots scrabble to rebuild, Edward brawls with his Lords. The author draws a sensitive portrait of Edward and his love for Piers Gaveston as well as his strained relationship with his beautiful French wife, Isabella. As in ‘The Crown in the Heather’, the story is told in the first person from the points of view of these three, very different, men.

Once again, Sasson takes the reader there, to the wind-swept hills of Scotland where Robert runs for his life, to the islands of the Irish Sea, to London where Edward I, in one of his last acts of malicious cruelty, commits his outrageous act against Robert’s women. The description is vivid, the attention to detail meticulous.

This is a first class book. I look forward to reading the final chapter. Find it at Amazon and all good online book stores.

N. Gemini Sasson – The Crown in the Heather

Picture of cover The Crown in the HeatherThe autumn wind was murderous cold. Small gray clouds raced like mountain hares above a drab and muddy billowing of land. Leafless limbs clattered in complaint against the onslaught of wind.”

The wonderful use of evocative language is just one of the things that sets Gemini Sasson’s novel ‘The Crown in the Heather’ apart. The first book of a trilogy about the life of Robert the Bruce, this novel covers the years from 1290 to 1306. The author takes the reader on a journey that encompasses the length and breadth of England and Scotland and as far as Paris as it chronicles the complex politics, back-stabbing and double-dealing as men fought for the Scottish Crown. It is a dark and raw story, written of a turbulent, violent time. What impressed me most was that Sasson chose the difficult path of writing her story from the different view points of three people – all in first person. And it works. Robert the Bruce, James Douglas and Edward, crown prince of England all come across as distinct individuals, each with his own voice, each with his own motivations. The secondary characters – people like Edward’s brutal father, Edward I – known as Longshanks, Robert’s wife Elizabeth and the towering William Wallace are clearly drawn. Sasson has done her homework and the settings and the details are vivid. This is a marvellous book. I look forward to the second volume.

Available from Amazon

M.M. Bennetts – May 1812

Cover May 1812Do you have books on your bookshelf that have grown shabby with wear? Those books that you read and re-read and despite the care you take, the spines become loose, the corners worn? Well, M.M. Bennetts’s book, May 1812, will become one of those for me.

Meticulously researched, richly layered, Bennetts has re-created the world as it existed in 1812, where Britain ruled the waves and Napoleon ruled everything else. We in the twenty-first century don’t realise how difficult and dangerous those times really were, how much of an analogy can be drawn with the dark days of World War II, when Britain stood alone against the forces in Europe.

In this situation, we first meet the Earl of Myddelton deep in the intricacies of the Grand Chiffre, Napoleon’s almost indecipherable code which he used to communicate with his generals. Immersed as he is in the war effort, Myddleton has let aspects of his personal life lapse and finds, to his horror, that he must marry a girl he has never met.

We follow Myddelton as he marries Jane and then learns to admire, like and maybe even love her. It’s not an easy road for either of them. The good Earl’s ineptitude is in stark contrast to Jane’s stoicism and yet both are strongly drawn, sympathetic characters. In the background, the mannerisms, the speech and the machinations of society are lovingly crafted and utterly believable. But at the same time, the war goes on. The Americans, newly independent, are restive, losses mount in Spain and then, in May 1812, the British Prime Minister is assassinated, throwing London into crisis. Myddelton is torn between his domestic problems and his duty as a member of the government.

While the main plot line appears to be a simple romance, in fact Bennetts has gathered together strand after strand of conflict into a rich, absorbing tapestry. Myddelton and his best friend, Pemberton; the society matrons who watch, aghast, as this most eligible catch slips through their fingers; Jane and her uncle; Lord Castlereagh’s demands; the assassination and the unrest on the streets; undercover operations; the list goes on.

Buy the book at Amazon and other online retailers.