Long Live the King

What to make of the success of The King's Speech?  In today's cacophony of over-juiced films targeted at juveniles, the movie is an anachronism reminiscent of dramas on Masterpiece Theatre in the 1970s, raising the question: how can a movie with no pyrotechnics, promiscuity, car chases, or gratuitous violence draw large and appreciative audiences and several Oscar nominations?

The nearly rapturous reaction to the film by American audiences is partly due to the revelation that they had been duped by the melodramatic interpretation of the abdication of Edward VIII as the "love story of the century" about "the king who gave up his throne for the woman he loved."  In this maudlin hyperbole, expressed in films and books since 1936, the new king, George VI, the real hero in the history of this dramatic transfer of power, was passed over in the popular culture.  Now we have a different take.

Edward, who gained the throne for eleven months, agreed to step down and marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson.  After much consternation at Buckingham Palace and Whitehall, he was styled the Duke of Windsor and offered insignificant posts abroad.  He was appointed Governor of the Bahamas for the duration of World War II, but he did not refrain from expressing pro-Nazi views, which contributed to his estrangement by the royal family until the ice was broken by his niece Queen Elizabeth II in 1965.  He died in virtual exile in Paris in 1972.

George VI was the opposite of his polo-playing, party-animal brother.  He was a quiet man who embraced middle-class values and sought a sedentary life as the Duke of York.  Thrust into the role of king and ruler of the vast British Empire by a twist of fate, he personified the British ideals of duty, honor, and rectitude.  His queen consort, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, descended from the royal house of Scotland, became perhaps the most popular "royal" in British history in her role as Queen Mother to Elizabeth II.

Providence seems to have placed George on the throne at the moment when a man of his character was required to lead Britain through World War II -- just as the hand of fate moved simultaneously to elevate Winston Churchill to prime minster.  As the British held on alone against the Nazi menace for nearly four years until America entered the war in Europe, the leadership and example of these two resolute men held the nation and empire together.

George's decision to keep his daughters Elizabeth and Margaret in London during the blitz, when most middle-class families removed their children to the countryside, Canada, and the U.S. to protect them from Nazi bombing raids, is acknowledged as a key factor that galvanized the citizens of London to endure the constant German bombing.  The qualities of George VI are personified in his daughter -- and the monarchy has flourished in her reign.  Had Edward kept his crown, history may have turned out far differently.

Another more subtle and refreshing aspect of the film is the acceptance by audiences that the British Empire is not flogged in the film.  Instead, the producers are starkly unapologetic when our hero calls on his subjects worldwide to unify behind the coming war with Nazi Germany.  After 65 years of unrelenting criticism of imperialism from academics, journalists, and film and TV producers, few if any comments have been uttered condemning The King's Speech for its unvarnished pride in the empire.

It is coincidental that the former British empire is undergoing reexamination by scholars.  Several recent books have concluded that peoples and nations connected to the empire benefited more than they lost from colonization as they moved on to independence after World War II -- especially when compared to new nations that emerged from French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Belgian control.  The British, in comparison, gave as much as they got, instituting stable governmental footprints; organized trade, communications and transportation systems; and most importantly, common law -- the paramount contribution of the raj.  And the empire actually carries on in the institution of the Commonwealth of Nations.  The Queen, as "head" of this organization of former British colonies and territories, plays a major role in British foreign policy via her back-channeling with the 54 member-states.

The King's Speech represents the victory of truth over popular sentiment -- and balances out the incessant criticism against the British Empire.  On a more prosaic level, the film began its rise to mass popularity due to Boomers, who found a film they could appreciate.  The movie industry has ignored this key audience to pander to juveniles and, in the process, further debased our culture.  Long live the king!

Bernie Reeves is editor and publisher of Raleigh Metro Magazine and Founder of the Raleigh Spy Conference.
What to make of the success of The King's Speech?  In today's cacophony of over-juiced films targeted at juveniles, the movie is an anachronism reminiscent of dramas on Masterpiece Theatre in the 1970s, raising the question: how can a movie with no pyrotechnics, promiscuity, car chases, or gratuitous violence draw large and appreciative audiences and several Oscar nominations?

The nearly rapturous reaction to the film by American audiences is partly due to the revelation that they had been duped by the melodramatic interpretation of the abdication of Edward VIII as the "love story of the century" about "the king who gave up his throne for the woman he loved."  In this maudlin hyperbole, expressed in films and books since 1936, the new king, George VI, the real hero in the history of this dramatic transfer of power, was passed over in the popular culture.  Now we have a different take.

Edward, who gained the throne for eleven months, agreed to step down and marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson.  After much consternation at Buckingham Palace and Whitehall, he was styled the Duke of Windsor and offered insignificant posts abroad.  He was appointed Governor of the Bahamas for the duration of World War II, but he did not refrain from expressing pro-Nazi views, which contributed to his estrangement by the royal family until the ice was broken by his niece Queen Elizabeth II in 1965.  He died in virtual exile in Paris in 1972.

George VI was the opposite of his polo-playing, party-animal brother.  He was a quiet man who embraced middle-class values and sought a sedentary life as the Duke of York.  Thrust into the role of king and ruler of the vast British Empire by a twist of fate, he personified the British ideals of duty, honor, and rectitude.  His queen consort, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, descended from the royal house of Scotland, became perhaps the most popular "royal" in British history in her role as Queen Mother to Elizabeth II.

Providence seems to have placed George on the throne at the moment when a man of his character was required to lead Britain through World War II -- just as the hand of fate moved simultaneously to elevate Winston Churchill to prime minster.  As the British held on alone against the Nazi menace for nearly four years until America entered the war in Europe, the leadership and example of these two resolute men held the nation and empire together.

George's decision to keep his daughters Elizabeth and Margaret in London during the blitz, when most middle-class families removed their children to the countryside, Canada, and the U.S. to protect them from Nazi bombing raids, is acknowledged as a key factor that galvanized the citizens of London to endure the constant German bombing.  The qualities of George VI are personified in his daughter -- and the monarchy has flourished in her reign.  Had Edward kept his crown, history may have turned out far differently.

Another more subtle and refreshing aspect of the film is the acceptance by audiences that the British Empire is not flogged in the film.  Instead, the producers are starkly unapologetic when our hero calls on his subjects worldwide to unify behind the coming war with Nazi Germany.  After 65 years of unrelenting criticism of imperialism from academics, journalists, and film and TV producers, few if any comments have been uttered condemning The King's Speech for its unvarnished pride in the empire.

It is coincidental that the former British empire is undergoing reexamination by scholars.  Several recent books have concluded that peoples and nations connected to the empire benefited more than they lost from colonization as they moved on to independence after World War II -- especially when compared to new nations that emerged from French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Belgian control.  The British, in comparison, gave as much as they got, instituting stable governmental footprints; organized trade, communications and transportation systems; and most importantly, common law -- the paramount contribution of the raj.  And the empire actually carries on in the institution of the Commonwealth of Nations.  The Queen, as "head" of this organization of former British colonies and territories, plays a major role in British foreign policy via her back-channeling with the 54 member-states.

The King's Speech represents the victory of truth over popular sentiment -- and balances out the incessant criticism against the British Empire.  On a more prosaic level, the film began its rise to mass popularity due to Boomers, who found a film they could appreciate.  The movie industry has ignored this key audience to pander to juveniles and, in the process, further debased our culture.  Long live the king!

Bernie Reeves is editor and publisher of Raleigh Metro Magazine and Founder of the Raleigh Spy Conference.

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