As Prince William and Kate Middleton prepare for their married life together, they have a timely cinematic reminder of a successful and important royal marriage from the last century.
The King’s Speech, which portrays King George VI‘s battle to overcome his stammer, also shows how crucial the support of his wife Queen Elizabeth (mother of the current Queen) was. The film depicts a concerned Duchess of York going to Harley Street by herself and enlisting the services of a controversial Australian speech therapist for her husband, then the Duke of York. He became King after his brother Edward VIII abdicated to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson, just as the Second World War was looming onto the horizon. The film ends with the King successfully reading out a live radio broadcast to the nation, encouraged by his wife and his speech therapist Lionel Logue. The marriage of the shy, sensitive “Bertie” was credited with transforming his life.
The end of the film is the starting point for what was to be a defining period for the royals – World War II. The King and Queen played a key role on the home front, shoring up public morale in wartime. The Queen memorably dismissed the government’s idea of evacuating her two daughters to Canada, declaring “The children could not go without me. I can’t leave the King, and of course the King will never leave.”
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth lived in Buckingham Palace until the Palace was bombed by the Germans in September 1940 – as the Queen famously remarked, “I’m glad we’ve been bombed. Now we can look the East End in the face.” After the bombing of the Palace, the pair slept at Windsor Castle, but returned to the city each day – hence the ditty, “The King is still in London.” The royal couple conscientiously visited bombed areas during the Blitz, visits often arranged at their own initiative, without the aid of an army of royal spin doctors.
The strength of this royal marriage helped King George VI and Queen Elizabeth undertake their pivotal wartime role, which in turn made the monarchy itself more popular. The Queen’s instinctive ability to understand and respond to the public’s predicament was invaluable to the King. Like Kate Middleton, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was a non-royal before her marriage (although she was a member of the aristocracy whereas Kate is a “commoner”). Just as Kate Middleton has a keen sense of fashion, so Elizabeth received rave reviews in Paris for her white Norman Hartnell outfits. The difficult economic times in Britain aren’t on the scale of the wartime austerity, but Kate and William are already showing their sensitivity to the public mood as they plan their wedding day.
William and Kate live in different times, of course, but the example of a loving royal marriage which helped lead the nation will not be lost on them – playing at a cinema near you now.