Saturday, 22 January 2011

The King's Speech

It is urprising how many people I know went to see the much heralded King's Speech as soon as it was released. Even non-Royalists, in whose number I count myself, could not be failed to be moved by the performance of Colin Firth as the painfully stammering future King.

The film did nothing for the reputation of the Prince of Wales/Edward VIII, who came over as a rather cruel cad. He and Mrs Simpson were clearly the bad guys in this story.

The one complaint I had was the role of Winston Churchill, played by the ubiquitous Timothy (Wickes: It's got our name on it) Spall. Anyone who saw the film and knew nothing about the history of the period would assume that Winston Churchill was a great supporter of the Duke of York during the abdication crisis. In fact this was the reverse of the truth. One of the greatest misjudgements of his political career was to speak in support of his friend the Prince of Wales in the House of Commons at the height of the crisis. It would I suppose have been bad for the American market had Churchill been portrayed as being on the wrong side!

A few weeks before seeing the film I picked up a Souvenir of the 1937 Coronation of Our only lawful liege, George the Sixth (picture above). In it there is much mention of The Empire, including a map showing India, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, and all points in between. I was surprised though that in his speech on becoming King, George VI used the more modern British Commonwealth of Nations rather than British Empire. He also used the quaint biblical word my helpmeet to refer to his wife, played in the film incidentally by the delightful Helena Bonham Carter.

The inhabitants of the Empire were listed as follows: 365 million Indians, 70 million whites, 42 million blacks, 7 million Arabs, 7 million Malays, 1 million Chinese, 1 million Polynesians and 2 million others! One gets the impression that relatively few of the non-whites would have been at the Abbey to witness the Coronation. The United States though sent a special mission, which included General Pershing, who had led US Expeditionary Forces in the Great War.

I particularly loved the advertisements:

for Ovaltine, The National Beverage for Health: May this year of rejoicing take us appreciably nearer the national ideal of a Fitter Britain;

for Mansion Polish, Brilliance for the Happy Occasion: In the home, also, the housewife will desire to maintain a spirit of brightness befitting the happy occasion ..;

for Marconi, Only All-Wave Radio can bring you this year's great exchange of Empire Broadcasts ..;

for Cadbury's Bournville Cocoa a more demotic appeal,the Food Drink of the People, suitably positioned on the back page;

a page showing wholesome women wearing the unrevealing underwear that was the order of the day and that one could imagine was worn by the new Queen herself:

and from Drages of Oxford Street an advertisement extolling the virtue of buying furniture on installments : Miss Everyman: I had somehow thought that Payment-out-of-Income was associated with the cheaper, shoddier kinds of furniture.

Overall a fascinating glimpse into what now seems an archaic world.

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