Analysis of an Artistic Response to War: The King’s Speech
The artistic response I have chosen is the 2010 movie The King’s Speech, which stars Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham-Carter. The film follows the King of England’s younger son (played by Firth), who struggles with a speech impediment. The majority of the movie tracks the relationship between Firth’s character and the unorthodox speech therapist (played by Rush) who eventually helps him overcome the stutter. After his father dies and his older brother abandons the throne, Firth’s character becomes King George IV, and he realizes that he must be the king to lead his people against Hitler and Germany in what would escalate into the Second World War. At the movie’s climax, Firth addresses his people over the radio, a new invention, and succeeds in informing his country that they are headed into a war, but a war that he knows they shall win.
The director of the movie, Tom Hooper, portrays various types of leadership during war. He seems to agree with George IV’s father that it is essential for a nation’s leader to be able to rally his people with an inspirational (and coherent) speech. To prove this point, Hooper contrasts George IV’s inability to speak with two examples of leaders who are effective primarily because they are eloquent. The first of these contrasts is his father, played by Michael Gambon, who we see delivering a fatherly Christmas speech over the radio and later confessing to his son that he doesn’t believe England would ever follow a man who couldn’t put a complete sentence together. The second of these contrasts is the menacing German dictator Adolf Hitler, who we also see rallying his people with an inspirational and spirited speech. When he catches a piece of Hitler’s speech, Firth’s character laments his own inability to speak publicly, and Hooper’s point is very clear: In times of war, nations do not necessarily follow leaders who make the right choices; they follow leaders who deliver speeches they can believe in and take comfort from.
Unlike Platoon or Saving Private Ryan, two war movies whose scenes take place almost entirely on the battlefield, The King’s Speech is a movie that we may not realize, at first, is in fact a war movie. This is because the war between England and Germany is mostly played out in the war Firth’s character fights against himself, especially in the movie’s first half. As it progresses, however, we come to realize that King George IV is actually a metaphor for his country; his soldiers and citizens are also reluctant to become involved in a war against the charismatic and powerful German dictator, Hitler. Neither Germany nor Hitler appears in The King’s Speech’s poster (above), but still the poster conveys a sense of the war-like battle that will take place in the film between King George IV (on the left side of the poster) and the talent for delivering fiery speeches like his father or like Hitler (represented by the microphone on the right). Despite his lack of confidence in himself, with training and the support of friends and family King George IV ultimately delivers a radio address that invigorates the English. Like its king, the country of Great Britain overcomes its reluctance, combats Hitler’s forces, and remains just about the only nation in Europe to not be invaded by the Nazis at some point or another during the war.
As an artistic response not just to World War II but to war in general, The King’s Speech serves as a lesson in the importance of confident and inspiring leadership. War is sometimes a necessary evil, especially when it is fought against a man like Hitler, who threatens to invade every one of the world’s free countries. In every battle there is a “right” side and a “wrong” side, and in order for the “right” side to win, its leader must be able to convince the world of its righteousness. If King George IV had not confronted his fear of the throne or of the microphone, it is very likely Nazi Germany would have annexed England. And if Germany had annexed England (and its king had stood idly by), there certainly wouldn’t have been a movie called The King’s Speech.