King George VI: The Man Behind The King’s Speech (DVD Review)20 Aug, 2011 By: John Latchem
If the title isn’t enough to indicate King George VI is designed as a companion piece to Oscar winner The King’s Speech, how about this: The first of the talking heads shown discussing the king’s life is Colin Firth, who played the man in the movie. Don’t worry, King’s Speech director Tom Hooper gets his chance to speak here, too.
In fact, even the historians interviewed refer to the film to place the events they discuss in context, and the documentary’s focus is so intertwined with The King’s Speech that it could have been included with the movie as an extra and no one would have batted an eye (Firth’s and Hooper’s interviews seem to have been filmed during the press tour for their movie). This raises the question of why the documentary wasn’t released on DVD until nearly four months after The King’s Speech debuted on disc, which marketing-wise will no doubt dilute its impact a bit.
That shouldn’t diminish the final product, a nicely assembled compilation of pundit interviews and newsreel footage chronicling the life of England’s King George VI, who seems to symbolize the transition of the monarchy into a modern world.
This was the theme of The King’s Speech, which made a point of demonstrating how rulers had to adapt to the influence of radio (and, later, TV). This sparked a dilemma for George VI, who suffered from a stammer, when his older brother Edward VIII abdicated the throne after less than a year’s reign over his desire to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
The documentary covers an aspect of the abdication crisis that isn’t mentioned in a lot of programs about the subject: While the British government was against a potential marriage, public opinion wasn’t, and we are told most of the commoners would have supported Edward VIII regardless of whom he married. This caused some friction for George VI once he became king, even though rising to the throne was the last thing he wanted in the first place.
King George VI steers clear of a shadier facet of the abdication, which was Edward VIII’s supposed friendly attitude toward the Nazis at a time when many in Britain feared war with Germany was inevitable. As it turned out, George VI’s steady hand through World War II was just what Britain needed, and that part of it is covered here quite well.
The second half of the documentary gives us a glimpse into George VI’s 15-year reign that followed the events depicted in The King’s Speech, covering his death in 1952 and the accession of his daughter, Elizabeth II.
Extras include some original newsreels that should appease ardent royal-watchers, including the unveiling of the George V memorial, a George VI trip to Cape Town and the christening of the infant Prince Charles.