Last night, my husband and I went to the The King's Speech, the movie about how Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue helped King George VI overcome his stammer when he was forced to give public speeches upon gaining the throne after the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII. Like almost all the critics, we loved this movie. It features terrific actors, it captures the look and feel of the time perfectly, it is based on true events, and it has an uplifting ending. My husband and I don't get out to the movies much, but if we do, this is exactly the kind of movie I want to see.
The subject matter is appropriate for middle school and high school students. It provides some background on the lead up to World War II, and certainly gives Americans a better picture of the family of the current Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, and of the institution of monarchy altogether. Even more importantly, I think it gives some great lessons about heroism. It is a great example of how we might admire someone famous or from a great family or with great power, and never realize that they, just like all of us, have their own challenges to overcome, their own demons to face. Colin Firth's "Bertie" is a man who is surrendered to his duty, who is noble and persistent and struggles to live up to what his nation and his people need him to be, even if it is not the path he would have chosen for himself. Helen Bonham Carter makes a wonderful wife to the would-not-be King, sweet and strong and stoic and compassionate all at once. (Her performance is especially delightful since the last time we saw her, she was playing Bellatrix Lestrang in the latest Harry Potter movie, where she is pretty much the polar opposite of the role she plays here.) And Geoffrey Rush's Lionel Logue is an eccentric commoner who never loses his dignity and refuses to be pushed around in the face of the royal juggernaut of honors and procedures, facing down the issues of power and class differences that were quite a big deal at the time. It is really a film about everyone striving to be their best selves under trying circumstances, which is a message that none of us, but especially our middle and high school students, can hear often enough.
The issue in sharing this movie with students, however, are several instances of extreme profanity. The swearing scenes, which are a great contrast to the language in the rest of the movie, serve a dramatic purpose. Nonetheless, many of us may not feel comfortable taking our children to a movie with language that is profane enough to have earned the film an R rating.
So you may have to wait until it comes out on DVD, and then fast forward over a couple of bits. Other than that, however, it is a great movie for teaching students a variety of lessons, historical and otherwise.