With the victory of the film The King’s Speech at the 2011 Academy Awards, the attention the movie garnered will subside. While it was in contention, the film had been scrutinized for its veracity. Some critics – like Christopher Hitchens – have pointed out that King George VI was not the friend of Churchill the film seems to suggest. In fact, the monarch tried to keep Churchill out of government and favoured Chamberlain. Even after the latter had ceded
But story told by the film transcends the elements contained in it. Like much in the arts, the intent is not to report the facts but to convey a message. The obvious message is that every person, no matter their rank, is beset by some challenge and every person, no matter their rank, has the strength to overcome. In the film, it is the stammering prince “Bertie” who learns to speak effectively. Subordinate to this broader message is the message that no one ought to be too proud or too timid to seek professional help when needed. And the relationship between speech therapist Lionel Logue and King George VI developed into a lifelong friendship. As well, it is the story of how a dedicated and loving spouse can make all the difference between success and failure.
In telling this story with all its nuances, the film well captures one ingredient of what cultural anthropologist Dr. Angeles Arrien called The Four-Fold Way.
The warrior or leader is that aspect of the human personality that chooses to be present. The leader’s journey often requires facing difficult issues. Presence is earned when leaders are able to overcome the obstacles they face and allow their innate talents and gifts to rise above their insecurities.
Along with the power of presence is the power of communication. When leaders are able to find their authentic voices, they garner the ability to inspire and empower others. Their voice becomes the voice of authority. All agreed that Bertie was better suited to be king than his brothers. But he lacked the ability to express himself without embarrassment. Once enabled to speak with confidence he was able to gird his country for war and to face the oncoming cataclysm with resoluteness. Good ideas go wanting if they cannot be communicated effectively.
Added to this is the power of position. In Bertie’s case, it was thrust upon him by the abdication of his brother, King Edward. But even in other circumstances, the power of position entails courageously rising to the occasion and accepting responsibility to lead. It also means enlisting the necessary support that is essential to succeed. Without a supporting cast, even the wisest leader will fail.
The film, with all its historical inaccuracies, is not really about what King George VI said – “The King’s Speech” – or even how came to say it, but it is about consolidating a nation, building a community, bringing people together in common cause. It is about the king’s reach. And every person has the ability to reach out to others and reach up to the heights.