Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, & Beethoven Make Beautiful Music in THE KING’S SPEECH

I’ve been avoiding this sweltering heat this summer by catching up on some of the 2010 Oscar®-winning movies in the comfort of my air-conditioned living room. Last week, I watched The King’s Speech, a movie based on the true story of how speech therapist Lionel Logue helped King George VI to overcome a debilitating speech impediment. I relished every moment of the beautiful performances by Colin Firth (King George VI, nicknamed Bertie) and Geoffrey Rush (Lionel Logue). My favorite scene was when Logue assisted Bertie during his speech declaring war on Germany, accompanied by the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92. I loved not only how the phrasing and character of the music matched the patterns and mood of the speech, but also how Logue guided Bertie like a conductor leading an orchestra.

As a former orchestral musician, I’ve logged quite a few hours observing the techniques of various conductors. It was fascinating to recognize Logue’s conductor-like mannerisms as he navigated the speech with Bertie. At the beginning, Logue raises his hands as if preparing to give a downbeat. He mouths some of the words along with Bertie, like an opera conductor with a vocalist. He uses sweeping right-hand motions to encourage flowing speech. In a brief moment of levity, Logue silently mouths an obscenity which Bertie uses as a mental device to drive forward through a difficult sentence. Afterwards, Logue mouths “very good” like a youth orchestra conductor praising his students. When Bertie finally hits his stride, Logue no longer has to direct with his hands and simply listens with an expression of deep satisfaction on his face.

I loved how beautifully the character and tempo of the music worked with the emotion and phrasing of the speech. At the beginning, the plodding musical phrases match Bertie’s halting speech patterns. As Bertie gains confidence and momentum, the scope of the music expands with layers of instruments into legato grandeur. When the speech winds down, the music gradually grows quieter and comes to a close. It’s also worth mentioning that the serious, militaristic music is an excellent accompaniment to a speech about the declaration of war.

Below you’ll find a video of the scene. If you’d like to listen to a version of the real-life speech, you can find it here on YouTube.

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