Movies are all about talking. And the Oscars are all about movie people talking about movies. The winner tonight holds a special place for those of us who care about political rhetoric, history, and popular culture.
The King’s Speech is a movie about talking, and about the importance of talking well. On the most intimate, personal levels—and in the most dramatic political, and social contexts.
As Colin Firth so finely delivers his lines in the closing moments, as King George VI is about to first address his subjects with war on the horizon: “The Nation believes that when I speak, I speak for them. But I cannot speak.”
This superb film is about a person finding his voice, finding that he can speak. It is a wonderful thing that compared to gory movies about people slicing arms off, or neurotic facebook kids suing each other, this film came out on top. While the person in question happens to have been an English monarch, his trepidations and fears are no different from any public speaking student that I, or Mr. Lionel Logue, encountered over the years.
This is also a movie about education, as much as it is about politics and royalty.
“Turn the hesitations into pauses,” Logue tells the King in one scene. “Bounce into it.” Rather than force his student into a mold, the teacher lets the student be the guide. He turns the awkwardness into something other, he re-defines the terms on which the King’s Speech was judged.
Indeed, pauses can signify confidence.
This is far more than a movie about a King finding his voice. It is an exposition of the power that language has over individuals, and vast audiences, all at once. Rhetoric depends upon audience, and “Bertie’s” impediment was due as much to the pressure of his Imperial audience as it was his horrid father and family in how they treated him and his need for “corrections.” As a teacher of speech, and rhetoric, I encountered these kinds of issues all the time. None of my pupils were the Duke of York. (What a scene that was!)
The moral of the story, so relevant today as we witness revolution worldwide and observe our own leaders’ responses to these momentous events is that when leaders speak, they do speak for nations. For peoples. The frustration with Obama, often justified, is that he does not fully comprehend this lesson.
This is also why the broader debate over violent rhetoric in our country, today, matters. We have no King, but we have leaders, and when they speak, others feel they speak for them.
There is great responsibility embodied in this, an ethical imperative that this remarkable film captures on the personal and political level.
Our own politics would be improved if we had speech coaches like Lionel Logue to help leaders on both sides—Obama, Palin, Bachmann—through the process of considering what they are saying, and why they are saying it.