A mom’s-eye view of The King’s Speech

Two weeks ago, I finally saw The King’s Speech.    One might reasonably ask why a tea-drinking, Colin Firth-admiring Anglophile like me took nearly two years to see this film, which received rave reviews from everyone I know.  Really, there are two reasons why it took me so long, and those reasons are named Matthew and Luke.  Parenting has definitely put a crimp in my movie-going style.

But I will say this:  when I do get to the movies these days, my experience of them is enriched because I now see them through the lens of a mom.  And this was certainly true of The King’s Speech.   I still find myself thinking about certain moments in that movie, moments that probably would not have affected me to such an extent were I not a parent.  (If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll probably remember these scenes; if you haven’t, I’ll try to talk about them without giving anything away.)

For one thing, there is that memorable moment at the old King’s deathbed, when the Prince of Wales  (Guy Pearce) suddenly bursts into tears and hugs his mother the Queen.   He grabs her around the middle in the way that a child might do, a gesture that speaks volumes about his fears and ambivalence about now  becoming King.  And the Queen just stands there frozen, with a look of panic on her face, her arms held out stiffly at her sides.  It’s as if she literally doesn’t know how to embrace her son.   It’s a painful scene to watch.   I’m not someone who normally yells at her TV, but it was hard not to scream, “It’s called a HUG, lady!  Put your arms around him and pat!”   It made my heart break for both royal brothers; you could see the lack of love they had as children, right there, in one excruciating moment.

This parental coldness, of course, is confirmed in the scene when Bertie (Colin Firth) is talking to Lionel the speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush).  Bertie tells Lionel about the cruelty of his first nanny, and how it took his parents years to notice her treatment of him.   The fact that Bertie shares this while building a model airplane was all the more poignant to me; he was an adult doing a child’s activity, representing a childhood he never had.

On a more positive note, I loved the little scene where Bertie was talking to his daughters by the fireside and telling them the story of the penguin.  It was remarkably sweet, and showed that he was building a relationship with his daughters that he’d never had with his own parents.

I also give the screenwriter props for the scene where Lionel is playing the game with his teenage sons.  He disappears behind the door and comes out acting like a Shakespearean character, and they try to guess which one.  Though it’s a brief scene, it shows the easy give-and-take between Lionel and his kids, and shows the warmth and playfulness of their father.  It’s a great contrast to the staid formality of the royal palace and royal family.

Speaking of Lionel’s family, I found myself very moved by the scene where they are gathered around the radio hearing the announcement that Britain is now at war.  The oldest son, who looks about nineteen or so,  comes into the room and listens.  Lionel looks up at him with a face of profound sorrow, and no words are spoken, but  when I saw his face, it hit me: He’s thinking about the possibility that his son may die in this war.   I honestly don’t know if I would have caught that look, and its meaning, had I not been a parent.  It made that scene so personal to me, as the mother of boys.

Of course, the most memorable aspect of the film is the wonderful dynamic between Bertie and Lionel.  Both actors were fabulous, and the screenplay was terrific, too.  And it strikes me that what Lionel did — helping Bertie learn to conquer his speech impediment, giving him the confidence to speak publicly — was, in so many ways, what a good parent does.  He saw Bertie’s potential, and called it forth.  He knew when to push and when to back off.   Most of all, he created a safe space, a place where Bertie could talk without fear of rejection or judgment or humiliation.  That, to me, is the most important thing any parent can do.  It’s what my parents did for me, and what I hope I am doing for my own boys.

It’s a great movie,  The King’s Speech.  It was definitely worth the wait.

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