Colin Firth as King George VI in "The King's Speech"
Colin Firth as King George VI in “The King’s Speech”

Thanks to Master Cat! Ben Frahm for this breakdown of the film that’s on so many Ten Best Lists:

Screenplay by: David Seidler
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Based on an unproduced play by the same name.

Genre: Fool Triumphant: Political Fool

Logline: The story of King George VI of Britain — his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist that helped the unsure monarch become worthy of his crown.

The man that would be king
The man that would be king

1. Opening Image (1):
— A microphone used for radio broadcasting. A slick announcer warms up his vocals.
— King George VI (Colin Firth) nervously prepares a speech. (Note, at this time in the movie, he is not King George VI, but rather Duke George VI, but to make things easier I will refer to him as “the King.”)
— The King is waved on and has to give a speech in front of thousands of fans at a sporting event.
— The King stammers his way through his speech and we learn that he suffers from a speech impediment. The fans are disappointed in their leader.

2. Theme Stated (later in Act 1):
The King’s father (King George V, played by Michael Gambon), while preparing for a photo shoot, tells his son that since the invention of radio, kings are expected to do more. “We’re expected to be actors. We’re expected to have charisma. And we’re expected to instill trust and faith in the people through our speech.”

3. Set-Up (1-10):
— The King stutters when he talks.
— The King is afraid every time he has to speak to the public.
— The King even avoids telling stories to his daughters at bedtime because of his impediment.
— The King knows that when his father passes he might one day be leader and would be required to give even more speeches. The King’s older brother (Guy Pearce), who is next in line for the throne, is a drunk and a womanizer and doesn’t seem fit to rule — which puts even more pressure on our King.
— The King sees a physician to help him overcome his problems and this results in embarrassment and humiliation.
— The King’s wife, Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), is concerned for her husband and starts seeking out other speech doctors.
— The King’s wife finds a peculiar doctor…

Meet Lionel Logue
Meet Lionel Logue.

4. Catalyst (12):
— Meet Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). He is an avant-garde speech therapist who also has interest in being a stage actor.
— The King’s wife sets up an appointment for her husband to meet with Lionel.
— Lionel and the King meet for the first time.
— Lionel challenges the King in unorthodox ways. Talks about his personal life. Calls him “Bertie.” And makes him sing. Finally, when Lionel makes the King wear headphones and listen to classical music, then recite Shakespeare, the King storms out, telling Lionel he’s not interested in his services. However, Lionel says the King’s recording of Shakespeare was “stammer-free” and gives the King a recording as evidence. The King walks out nonetheless.

5. Debate (12-25):
This starts the debate. Will the King continue to seek services from Lionel? Will the King allow Lionel to challenge him like he’s never been challenged before? Can Lionel really help the King overcome his impediment if the King returns to resume his therapy?

6. Break into Two (25):
Late one night, in frustration, the King listens to the record that Lionel made of him reciting Shakespeare. To his dismay, there is no stammering or stuttering on the recording. The King knows that whatever Lionel did, it worked — for the first time, he spoke without a stutter.

7. B Story (30):
The King and his relationship with his father. King George V’s health is suffering, and he wants George VI to inherit the throne. However it looks like his older brother, Edward VII, is next in line.

8. Fun and Games (30-55):
— The King begins his training with Lionel.
— Lionel makes the King do bizarre things, like sit on the floor and yell. And curse. And sing. And anything else to loosen up the King.
— The King starts to show improvement.
— The King starts to change as a character.
— The King starts to change in his marriage.
— And Lionel is changing, too. He feels important for once. His wife can hardly believe he’s helping the King.
— Things are looking up for the King and we see the beginnings of a friendship between him and Lionel.

9. Midpoint (55):
— King George V falls ill and suddenly passes away.
— The throne is not to be inherited by the King, but rather his messed-up older brother, King Edward VII.
— False Defeat: The King feels like all of his speech training will be wasted. And despite his improvement and authentic ability to be the next king, his older brother will take the throne.

Edward VII takes the throne.

10. Bad Guys Close In (55-75):
— The King’s older brother takes the throne.
— The King is upset at this.
— The King brings his frustration to therapy.
— Lionel talks to the King about his father and learns that he was supposed to inherit the throne.
— Lionel tells the King that he should challenge his older brother and take over the throne.
— The King becomes angry with Lionel, telling him that this is “treason” and he could go to jail just for proposing such a thing.
— The King and Lionel’s relationship is tense.
— The King stops showing up for therapy.
— Lionel worries about the King and goes to see him at the palace.

11. All Is Lost (75):
— Lionel waits for the King at the palace but he doesn’t have time to see him.
— The separation of Lionel and The King is our ALL IS LOST moment, as this is the central relationship in our movie. This is the A Story with the most heart and emotional impact. It drives our story. When we know the King might be done with Lionel, we immediately fear the worst.
— Is their relationship over?
— What will happen to the throne?
— Will the King challenge his delinquent older brother?
— Everything changes when the King’s older brother steps down from the throne. Edward VII has fallen in love with a woman who is not suitable to be Queen, and as a result, he must decide between this relationship and the throne. Edward VII chooses his relationship.

Not all is lost, after all.
Not all is lost, after all.

12. Dark Night of the Soul (75-85):
— And now, the King is forced onto the throne.
— And into the public light once again.
— The King is expected to make a huge commencement speech at his coronation.
— The King is panicked.
— The King starts questioning himself.
— The King no longer has the help of Lionel and becomes afraid.
— The King tells his wife in an emotional scene that he’s not supposed to be a leader. His wife tells him that she fell in love with him because of his stammer and knows that he has the makings of a true leader.

13. Break into Three (85):
— The King reconnects with Lionel.
— He invites Lionel to the royal coronation and reserves a spot in the royal box seat.
— Lionel accepts his invitation.
— HOWEVER: The King is furious. His men have researched Lionel’s records and found that he is NOT A TRAINED PHYSICIAN. The King demands an explanation.
— Lionel admits that he has no medical training. Lionel is a struggling actor who performs in bars. However, after the war, Lionel started helping soldiers who had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder overcome their speech impediments using his peculiar knowledge of life and acting.
— We’re expecting the King to fire Lionel again. However, there’s change and character growth in our King… and this time he acts differently. He accepts Lionel for who he is.
— Lionel and the King begin getting ready for the coronation speech.
— The King is ready and shows great improvement.

14. Finale (85-110):
— However, with Hitler’s invasion, Britain declares war, and the King’s coronation speech is canceled. Instead, the King must speak on the radio and project confidence and faith to the millions of Britons who wait in fear and anxiety.
— The King declares that he can’t do this. He’s never been able to do something of this magnitude before, and the people will lose trust and faith in him as a leader if he fails.
— Lionel promises the King that he can, in fact, prevail.
— And Lionel and the King prepare, yet again, for his public address.

15. Final Image (110):
— The King addresses Britain over the radio. Lionel is in the recording booth with him.
— And he’s a success!
— He now uses everything that Lionel has taught him, and gets through the speech without stammering.
— The King is worthy of the throne.
— The King instills confidence and trust in all of Britain.
— And the FINAL IMAGE is when the King walks out on the balcony of the palace and waves to thousands of people who applaud him. (Note, this is the exact opposite image of the opening of the film, when the King spoke at the sporting event and all of the fans were disillusioned because of his speech impediment.)

Next week’s blog: Adam Levenberg on The Starter Screenplay