Revolver Entertainment // 2011 // 62 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 3rd, 2011
The remarkable story of how Britain's reluctant king led his country to war.
King George VI: The Man Behind the King's Speech makes me retroactively annoyed at my high school history teachers. I sat through hours of lectures and documentaries about World War II, learned all about D-Day and the Holocaust, but never heard a word about George VI. The faces of Britain for me were Neville "Peace in Our Time" Chamberlain and Winston "We shall fight on the beaches" Churchill. Those aren't bad faces to have stand in for Britain, but they're in some ways total opposites: Chamberlain looks like a sniveling coward and Churchill a pugnacious bulldog. Nestled right in the middle is King George VI, a man who seems cut from the same cloth as Chamberlain in his apparent shyness, but revealed himself to be made of the sterner stuff of Churchill as the war raged on. Most impressively, from this documentary I learned that George VI refused to vacate Buckingham Palace during the bombing of London. That kind of info makes for compelling history. It's those facts that make The Man Behind the King's Speech worth watching.
Those who've seen The King's Speech need little introduction to this documentary, but to briefly recap, King George VI ascended the throne when his brother abdicated to marry an American divorcee. He was a shy man who had no desire for the throne, and his ascendency at the dawn of the radio age was a cruel irony given his problems with stammering. Using interviews with historians, contemporary newsreel footage, radio recordings, and archival photographs, The Man Behind the King's Speech covers the life of this compelling King, giving special attention to how he overcame his stammer.
The Man Behind the King's Speech is a pretty standard biographical documentary. Perhaps the only standout aspects are the inclusion of footage related to the The King's Speech. Both Colin Firth (who played George VI) and Tom Hooper (the director) have a bit to say about the king. Otherwise we traverse Bertie's life from his strict upbringing by an heroic father to his ascension to the throne, survival in World War II, and ultimately his untimely death at the age of fifty-six.
Aside from a single annoying repetition, the use of archival footage is well done, and the featured interviewees seem authoritative without being stuffy. Clocking in at only 60 minutes, the film does a pretty strong job of covering Bertie's fifty-six years. Obviously most attention is paid to the episodes in his life that revolve around his stammer and his relationship with Lionel Logue, his speech therapist and friend. However, the rest of his life is covered in sufficient detail to paint a portrait of a man who was thrust prematurely (and perhaps unfairly) into a position he had no apparent desire or capacity for. And yet he triumphed, and watching this documentary makes it easy to see why The King's Speech is an award-winning, crowd-pleasing film.
As a DVD, King George VI: The Man Behind the King's Speech is solid. The anamorphic transfer doesn't suffer from any serious artefacting or compression problems. The contemporary video interviews look great, while the archival footage looks about as good as can be expected. The audio keeps the interviewees clear, though the balance between some of the archival footage and the talking heads can be frustrating. I was manning the remote through much of the film to keep things level. The extras include a trio of George VI's actual speeches.
However, clocking in at only an hour, this documentary doesn't do much to justify its list price of $19.99. Sure it's a compelling documentary on an interesting historical figure, and fans of The King's Speech might really enjoy it. Still, I'm not sure that it's the kind of thing that would bear re-watching for most viewers. If it were included along with The King's Speech as a special feature it would earn high marks, but on its own it will likely be worth only a rental by anyone but high school history teachers. Finally, the repetition of that newsreel footage is kind of annoying. It's a bit quibbling to complain about it, especially given how little relevant footage there must be, but its inclusion is distracting.
King George VI: The Man Behind the King's Speech is a decent biographical documentary that expands on the details presented in The King's Speech. Fans of that film will likely enjoy this more well-rounded historical perspective on George VI. However, due to the short running time and unlikely replay value, it's probably only worth a rental for most viewers.
Despite its slight running time, this film is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Revolver Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 62 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Audio