The speech

Acting on a recommendation, I video-on-demanded “The King’s Speech” last night at Amazon.

Who can resist these kinds of stories when they’re done well? “Born Yesterday,” “My Fair Lady” and so on. We cheer for the student and for the relationship. Rags to riches. Love conquering all.

I was caught off guard, then, by how this otherwise lighthearted film ended … no, that’s not right … I was caught off guard by how the completely predicable ending affected me, even as I was expecting that the speech would be the payoff for all the king’s hard work, and that it would be Britain’s rallying cry at the onset of WWII. What could be more by-the-book than intercutting shots of the king nervously reading his speech with scenes of people from all walks of life clustered around their radios? Haven’t I seen that same sequence in at least a dozen other movies?

However predictable, though, however formulaic, it was hypnotic. Ken Burns’ Civil War series had softened me up, too … the same tragic stupidity, slow-motion rolling over everything.

And the listeners were lit so beautifully. Idealized. The family at home, the men in the pub, the workers in the factory, the soldiers on the road … all perfect. All doomed. Do you remember what Herbert Morrison cried out as the Hindenburg went down in flames? He was bawling like a baby … “Oh, the humanity!”

Every word of the speech is a struggle, as every word of all such speeches should be, sticking in the throats of the speakers.


“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my sad duty to inform you that we have gone mad. Collectively and individually. We have resolved to destroy an imaginary ‘other’ and, in so doing, resolved to destroy ourselves, for we know in our hearts that there is no ‘other.’ There is only us.”