Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I want to learn more about George VI

"The King's Speech" is a movie that seems to polarize audiences. I loved it. Yes, I have a major crush on Colin Firth, but I loved the story too. The movie made me want to learn more about George VI.

A friend of mine recently complained that she hated the movie, pointing to the fact that the main character was born to privilege, with a 'silver spoon' in his mouth, so his problems didn't interest her. I think the story has much more depth than that; hopefully I can articulate all the reasons here (because the essay I composed in my head, before I gave up and got out of bed, was really good.)

Let's take on privilege. Yes, Bertie was born into a privileged situation. But that didn't help him any; it seems to have made his situation worse. The pressure and expectations of his position didn't give him room to find his own way, choosing a path that complimented his talents and minimized his limitations. The high expectations and family infighting added to his problem.

If you want to look down on privilege, look no further than his brother, the infamous Edward VIII. Now there is a shining example of what can be wrong with being born into privilege. His romance with Wallace Simpson was followed and lauded as one of the romances of the century, but they truly were spoiled. This was a couple that really did live off the people. They spent extravagantly, living in an ivory tower on the backs of everyone else.

Some of the reasons for his stammer are explored in the movie, and his father's constant ridicule is a major part. He strived for his father's love and approval, just like any child. That silver spoon certainly didn't give him a silver tongue. And it didn't make his parents good at parenting.

His struggle humanized him, showing that it doesn't matter what your station is. If someone in the public eye can overcome a stammer, so can anyone.

George VI is a fascinating person. I really didn't know much about him, but the bit I've learned since this movie came out makes him one of the most underrated historical figures I had never heard about. Think of what  a different world we would live in if Edward VIII hadn't abdicated. He actually objected to England getting involved in WWII, protesting that Hitler should be left alone because he was the leader of Germany. Think about that. Probably the best thing he ever did was abdicate.

George VI also revolutionized the British royal family. He was a man who never wanted nor expected to be king. It was thrust upon him during a very turbulent time. He stepped up to the task and did what needed to be done. Before him, the royals were much more like Edward VIII. George VI instilled a sense of duty. The current royal family works, in their own fashion, because of him, dedicated to public service. Are they like you or I? Well, not exactly, but they are still people.

So I ask: is the movie and story invalid as a portrayal of a man's struggle just because he was a prince and king? He was still a man fighting an internal battle. He had to fight all his early training both that he was above and better than others and that he was inferior. Yep, that's quite a dichotomy. But it's true. His stammer seems to have been caused by his feelings of inferiority when compared against his 'perfect' older brother, pounded into him by his father's disparaging remarks. And he had to open himself up to working with a commoner to cure that stammer. That's a big deal.

If you can't be sympathetic to the inner battle of a prince 'deigning' to work with a commoner, consider a different yet similar battle. Think about a white person in the south in the 1950 working with an African American. Think about a Brahmin in India working with an Untouchable. Find the parable that works for you to make you understand that he was incredibly brave given his time and circumstances to do this.

And let's look at current affairs for a moment, because some of this story still resonates. Edward VIII abdicated because he couldn't be King of England and Head of the Church of England and marry a divorcee. Do you remember the controversy when Prince Charles and Princess Diana divorced? And then Charles married a divorcee? Yep, same issue. Can he be king? I don't know if that's ever truly been resolved, so I wouldn't be surprised if Prince William is actually the next king even though his father is technically still the Crown Prince (which is giving William time to grow up and have a bit of life a little further from the spotlight.)

Elizabeth II went from being just a princess to being Crown Princess in the blink of an eye.... and has been one of the longest reigning sovereigns. Those little princesses that Bertie tells stories to grew up to be the current queen and Princess Margaret. Remember the beloved Queen Mum who died just a few short years ago? Yep, she was King George VI's Queen Elizabeth. (Back to the movie, I think that is my favorite of Helena Bonham Carter's roles. And she clearly shows a woman in love with her husband. Heck, there is a conversation in the movie that she married him DESPITE his being a prince because she loved him. Talk about romantic.) This wasn't a story that took place in a vacuum.

I'm sure I could go on, but this has already gotten rather long. Suffice it to say that I can't wait to watch the movie again because Chris still hasn't seen it and you know it's on our Netflix queue!

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