The King’s Speech (2010), written by David Seidler, won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay at the 83rd Academy Awards.
Sometimes you know when you are reading a brilliant work, watching a fantastic tv show, or staring at a beautiful piece of art (do people still do that?). This was one of those times.
The basic plot of The King’s Speech is a speech therapist, Lionel, helps the King of England (George VI) overcome his stutter. But the real story is helping the King rise to the occasion (of being a king) while confronting his biggest insecurity. Since his stutter has been with him since his youth, the task is monumental.
The plot follows Bertie aka King George VI as he goes from Prince to King. Being King means handling royal duties (probably a better term but w/e) and most importantly; giving speeches. Complicating matters is the looming war with Germany. This all cumulates with his first major address: Unlike the opening scene of the film, in which The King fails to make a speech, in the final scene, The King is able to succeed.
Having the first and final scenes of a screenplay be reversals of each other is a common screenwriting technique, and it works here brilliantly.
We have two leading characters, the King and his speech therapist, Lionel. King George VI comes across as respectful, professional and family-oriented, in other words, the perfect king to be. On the other hand Lionel is arrogant, witty and common (not pretentious), yet is the mentor in their relationship; a perfect match indeed.
Dialogue & Pacing
Seidler is clearly a master of dialogue. I wrote down a bunch of examples, but here’s one:
My physcians say it (smoking) relaxes the throat.
They’ve all been knighted.
Makes it official then.
See how defecation flows trippingly from the tongue?
It may not be meter, but its poetry!
The type of prose used actually seems to follow a sort-of unofficial style (so perhaps it isn’t prose after all?). The conversations involve lots of one-upmanship and witty remarks. Two other scripts that use a similar style are The Social Network (2010) and Air (2023). This style creates fast-paced and aurally appealing dialogue, but at the expense, in my opinion, of character development; because it’s hard to grow/change when you are clearly the smartest person in the room. Hence, Lionel doesn’t have much growth (neither does Mark in The Social Network and Sonny in Air).
It’s a very impactful script because the core message will resonate with almost anyone. Here’s a quote that showcases the theme (page 74):
…why should I waste my time listening to you?
Because I have a right to be heard!
Heard as what?!
A man! I HAVE A VOICE!!
And that, to me, is the overall message: Everyone, regardless of their background, whether that is a stammer or abuse or another problem, no matter their difficulty… They have a voice! They have something to share with the world.
The stammer is insignificant, it’s a good man gaining the confidence to speak and be a leader that is so powerful.
Best Part of The Script
The King’s Speech (pages 80-91)! What’s brilliant about the scene is that it creates more drama and more suspense than just about any action scene I have ever seen. It focuses on a core fear that many of us have; public speaking. And the entire screenplay builds up to it perfectly. We truly don’t know if he will succeed. It’s brilliant.