Monday, May 23, 2011
The King’s Speech
Let’s suppose I had a connection to a very famous person. Let’s say that I helped that famous person do something that was considered extraordinary for them. And then my grandson/daughter wrote a book about it decades later. What do you suppose the most interesting bits of that biography would be? I think it would be about my interaction with said famous person. It wouldn’t be about my trip to Italy last year, my domestic or personal financial issues, my relationship with my husband or my daughter. As fascinating as that may be to me and my dear ones, surely it would not fascinate you dear reader.
Hence, this is the dilemma for the writers of this biography and the main issue that I have with this book. Even though the relationship between Lionel Logue, an Australian born speech therapist, and King George VI was important to the success of that king’s reign (and was memorialized in the 2010 film The King’s Speech), everything else in Logue’s life is of little importance to the average reader.
The book is slight and feels sloppily put together, as if it was produced solely in response to the enormous popularity of the film (which I loved by the way).
If you are going to write about Wallis Simpson, the woman largely blamed for King Edward VIII’s abdication which precipitated King George VI’s ascension to the throne in 1937, at least spell her name right – not sometimes Wallis, sometimes Wallace.
If you are going to refer to the British poet Rudyard Kipling talk about his misguided “celebration” of British imperialism or his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 not merely that he is the author of The Jungle Book. Otherwise the authors appear ill informed and unaware of the historical importance of the people they are referring to.
As readers, we don’t need to know, every time Logue was present to prop up the King or how he congratulated him upon making a successful speech (let me let the cat out of the bag - it was often). We don’t really need to know that much about the techniques he used or how there were numerous quacks in the field. The authors have succeeded in making a slightly ridiculed figure in British history appear even more fragile and piteous – many times King George VI comes across as a very silly man or a frightened boy being more interested in a swarm of bees outside his window than what is happening in the room before him or the fact that he might miss his dinner if he engages in a particular speech at a given time.
It makes the monarchy look ludicrous - which isn’t so much bothersome to me because as a republican I don’t support the institution - but I don’t think that was the likely intention of the authors. I imagine that they wanted both Logue and the King to appear noble in a time of great historical importance.
And it was of great importance – imagine if the Nazi-sympathizing King Edward and his consort Mrs. Simpson who was rumored to have relationships with high-ranking Nazis had remained in power while the German army was encroaching on Europe and England in the late1930s, how events might have transpired. It's an ugly, possibly brutal scenario so the perceived competence and status of the King was important to the English people of that time.
Logue is a kind of hero and seemed an admirable man. He deserves a more fitting (and less boring) tribute from his grandson.