Clio's Clips: Short Student Reviews

Clio's Clips will occasionally present short commentary on films or subjects of reader interest and popular entertainment. The comments will cover both older and recent materials, present some aspects of historic background, as well as personal opinion and critical assessment.

Movie PosterThe King's Speech

By Lindsay Bennett

The film, The King’s Speech, tells the story of King George VI’s rise to power, 1937-1938, and the treatment of his speech impediment thanks to the help of his friend, Lionel Logue. This is not a story about Winston Churchill, however, he does make several small appearances in the film and sheds new light on his character. Churchill, played by Timothy Spall, is featured in scenes related to the Abdication Crisis. This is one of the major turning points of the drama when George’s older brother, King Edward VIII, abdicates the throne and George becomes King of Great Britain. While Churchill’s role in this film is relatively small, he played a major role in the actual history. Churchill’s views on the British monarchy actually influenced his opinions and actions during the Abdication Crisis more so than is revealed in the drama.

The King’s Speech was critically acclaimed, winning three Oscar awards. Colin Firth, who played the main character, King George VI, won an Oscar award for Best Actor; Director Tom Hooper won for Best Director, and the film won Best Picture. Timothy Spall’s performance as Winston Churchill also received critical acclaim. Churchill historian David Freedman notes, "Timothy Spall manages to show enough character in his fleeting moments as Churchill to suggest that given the chance at a more expansive portrayal, he would do a splendid job." Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill Spall did such an excellent job portraying Churchill’s demeanor and character in The King’s Speech that he was asked to reprise the role at the closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics. During those ceremonies, Spall as Winston Churchill, emerged from a model Big Ben and recited Caliban’s speech from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. This reprise shows how accurately Spall portrayed the well-loved Churchill in the film. It was this portrayal of Churchill that the United Kingdom displayed to the world at the conclusion of the Olympics.

The real Winston Churchill had a very high opinion of the constitutional monarchy, and played a larger role in the Abdication crisis than he did in the film. While in the film, Churchill offers his support to the Duke of York who will later become King George VI during his brother’s scandalous year of rule, it is reluctant. King Edward VIII’s scandal. As shown in the film, King Edward VIII wished to marry a twice-divorced American woman, Wallis Simpson. As king, Edward VIII was also head of the Church of England, which forbid the marrying of divorcees. After Parliamentary and Cabinet offices threatened to resign if Edward VIII married Mrs. Simpson, the king abdicated the throne.

Winston Churchill was among the many in British politics who believed in the strength and stature of the constitutional monarchy. According to Churchill the "crown was to be revered and respected." However, he steadfastly believed in the parliament’s political supremacy. Churchill supported King Edward VIII's scandal: as shown in the film during the crises, but he gradually warmed to the idea of George VI's accession. Abdication seemed abhorent to Churchill out of respect for the monarchy, but eventually he agreed to help Edward to step down. Churchill even helped write Edward VIII’s abdication speech including the romantic reference to Mrs. Simpson as "the woman I love." It was a final act of support for Edward, as well as the new king, George VI. In a speech Churchill gave in the House of Commons just after the Abdication, he stated: "The stronger the advocate of monarchical principle a man may be, the more zealously must he now endeavour to fortify the Throne and to give to His Majesty's successor that strength which can only come from the love of a united nation and Empire."

This quote shows Churchill’s willingness King George VI to accept George VI as king for the sake of the monarchy and the unity of the nation, although for many at this time, stuttering was often considered a mental problem. While The King’s Speech is both an excellent and entertaining film, it has some historical discrepancies concerning the role of Winston Churchill. Churchill’s character is masterfully captured through the acting of Spall, but the part is small, diminishing Churchill’s role in the Abdication Crisis. Helena Bonham-Carter as Queen Elizabeth & Colin Firth as King George VIIn reality, Churchill played a major role in the original constitutional crisis and in the transition era that followed. In 1939, with the beginning of World War II, the King and Churchill put aside this civil but uneasy truce, and worked together to save Britain from the Nazi power grab. This teamwork grew into a working and personal friendship that ultimately embraced the entire Royal family. By 1948, George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, had earned the affection of a hard-pressed but triumphant nation, and Churchill had become an icon to history. When George VI died in his sleep in 1952 and was buried at St. George's Chapel at Windsor, his family placed a plaque on the site inscribed with a poem written by Minnie Haskins in 1908. George VI had quoted the poem in his 1939 Christmas speech to the nation. It captured the fears and the hopes of a nation.

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
"Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown."
And he replied: "Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way."

George VI's Coronation

Recommended Reading:

Cannadine, David. “Churchill and the British Monarchy” in Winston Churchill in the Twenty-First Century.