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"The King's Speech" - The True Story Behind the Film

Updated on January 22, 2011
Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter star in "The King's Speech"
Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter star in "The King's Speech" | Source

History on Screen

Tipped as a front runner for awards glory this year, The King's Speech is currently dazzling audiences across the globe. It follows Albert, Duke of York, the younger son of King George V, who reluctantly took the throne after the abdication of his elder brother Edward VIII, and his struggle to overcome the stutter that plagued him from childhood. Starring Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter, the film documents the efforts of the pioneering speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to ready the new King for his first radio broadcast as the storm clouds of war gather over Europe.

George VI and his wife Elizabeth
George VI and his wife Elizabeth | Source

George VI

Albert, Duke of York came to the throne in 1936 as George VI, following the decision by Edward VIII to abdicate and marry Wallace Simpson. Albert (or Bertie as he was known) had married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923 and they had two children, Elizabeth and Margaret.

Having served in the Navy during World War I, George VI went on to win the admiration of the British people when the tide of war broke once again over Europe in 1939. He built up a strong relationship with wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill and refused to leave Buckingham Palace, even at the height of the Blitz, establishing him as a symbol of the nation's indomitable spirit. When the Palace was severely damaged in a raid, which destroyed the chapel and blew in many of the windows, the Queen famously declared "I'm glad we have been bombed. Now I can look the East End in the face". George VI made several trips abroad to visit the Armed Forces throughout the war, including visits to El Alamein shortly after the victory there, and to the Normandy beaches 10 days after D Day.

He died in February 1952 at the age of 56 of complications connected to lung cancer, which he developed through chain smoking. His funeral was held at St George's Chapel, Windsor. On a card attached to the Government's wreath Winston Churchill had written the phrase inscribed on the Victoria Cross "For Valour".

Hear George VI's speech of September 3rd 1939

Lionel Logue

Australian-born Lionel Logue met Bertie in 1926 at his practice in Harley Street. Elizabeth had tracked him down after Bertie (still the Duke of York) had attempted to give the closing address at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1925, with agonizing results. 

Logue was in fact medically unqualified and had trained as an actor but he had developed his techniques through working with shell-shocked soldiers returning to Australia after the First World War. He established a psychotherapeutic approach; suspecting that the cause of a stammer was not just physical but that trauma from childhood could also be to blame. He pinpointed Bertie's domineering father, George V, as a possible catalyst.

However Logue worked to convince Bertie that his problem was physical and that it could be cured with breathing exercises. In this way Logue hoped Bertie would regain his confidence. The pair met 82 times for one hour sessions and Logue was the only person allowed in the room with Bertie when he made his speech to the nation as King at the outbreak of World War Two. Logue was present at every speech the King made thereafter. In 1944 the King made a speech about disbanding the Home Guard and did so virtually without difficulty, only stumbling over the "w" for weapons. After the speech Logue asked him what the problem had been with the word and the Kind replied that he had made the slip on purpose "if I don't make a mistake," he said, "people might not know it was me". 

After the war Logue was made Commander of the Victorian Order in recognition of his work and he was acknowledged as a leading name in his field. He died in 1953.     

Lionel Logue and Geoffrey Rush who portrays him in the film
Lionel Logue and Geoffrey Rush who portrays him in the film | Source

Bringing the Story to the Screen

Screenwriter David Seidler himself suffered with a stammer as a child and listened to George VI's broadcasts during the Second World War. On learning of Logue's work with the King Seidler sought out Logue's son Valentine who had his father's diaries. However Valentine insisted that he could not allow Seidler to read the diaries until he had permission from the palace. So Seidler wrote to the Queen Mother at Clarence House but she responded "Please not in my lifetime. The memories of these events are still too painful." So his plans were put on hold for many years.

By the time the project was picked up again Valentine had died but his son Mark still had his grandfather's diaries and notes, which he shared with the film makers and were integral to the film.

Among the items was the note Logue made the first time he met Bertie, which read "quite normal, has an acute nervous tension, well built but with good shoulders but waistline a bit flabby." Also included was a letter from Queen Elizabeth to Logue following the death of her husband, "I think that I know perhaps better than anyone how much you helped the King not just in his speech but throughout his whole life and outlook on life .... I will always be deeply grateful to you. He was such a splendid person and I don't believe he he ever thought of himself".     

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    • profile image

      Linda Maddock 7 months ago

      Gosh, I had saved this and did read it after the awards ceremony. So happy it received the recognition most deserved. I never scrolled through to see this box at the end. Thankful that films like this, shed the light on real stories of matter the station in life.

    • profile image

      Aries Firth 4 years ago

      l like Colin Firth very much!!!!

    • profile image

      yes indeed 5 years ago

      king george albert "bertie" father of elizabeth, very nice remembrance of him, a tribute to her, and a story during a very troubling era .. .

    • profile image

      sueeeeeeess 5 years ago

      Great Great Story........

    • OrlandoC profile image

      OrlandoC 6 years ago from Glen Ridge

      I thought the movie was excellent. Thanks for the little tidbits.

    • SUSIE405 profile image

      SUSIE405 6 years ago from Delray Beach, Florida

      The movie was absolutely fabulous. Great story.

    • cassiekp profile image

      cassiekp 6 years ago from London

      Thanks guys, glad you liked it.

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      jacqui  6 years ago

      Great bit of british history! Makes you humble! Thanks!

    • profile image

      Lynda 6 years ago

      Wow, I didn't know any of that!