Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The King's Speech (Mark Logue and Peter Conradi)

 --The blurb--
"One man saved the British Royal Family in the first decades of the 20th century - he wasn't a prime minister or an archbishop of Canterbury. He was an almost unknown, and self-taught, speech therapist named Lionel Logue, whom one newspaper in the 1930s famously dubbed 'The Quack who saved a King'. Logue wasn't a British aristocrat or even an Englishman - he was a commoner and an Australian to boot. Nevertheless it was the outgoing, amiable Logue who single-handedly turned the famously nervous, tongue-tied Duke of York into one of Britain's greatest kings after his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 over his love of Mrs Simpson. This is the previously untold story of the remarkable relationship between Logue and the haunted future King George VI, written with Logue's grandson and drawing exclusively from his grandfather Lionel's diaries and archive. It throws an extraordinary light on the intimacy of the two men, and the vital role the King's wife, the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, played in bringing them together to save her husband's reputation and reign. [...] Logue's diaries also reveal, for the first time, the torment the future King suffered at the hands of his father George V because of his stammer." from Amazon.co.uk; abridged by me

--The review--
By the time many interested viewers got to see the film of The King's Speech, which featured Colin Firth in the star role, there had been so much discussion of and hype surrounding this cinematic piece of history that they had little left to be surprised by. While this frequently did not diminish enjoyment of the film, one would hope that the book version of The King's Speech, co-authored by the grandson of speech therapist Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush in the film), would yield more surprises.

In this, Mark Logue (along with journalist Peter Conradi, who has written a great deal on historical figures, both famous and less well-known, including the current Royal Family) does not disappoint, delving deep into his grandfather's archives to give us as much of the full story as is possible given that some key documents are still missing. Complete with high-quality photographs to supplement the story, the book takes us through the full span of the lives of both Lionel Logue and King George VI, from birth until death. As well as covering key events in the men's lives, the authors also uncover more anecdotal stories and quote directly from letters between the two of them.

Hugely readable, with relatively short chapters, the book is also interspersed with aspects of general history, from the widely-known to quirkier tidbits. Logue and Conradi control this pace well and invoke a promising sense of local place (it would almost be possible to weave together a King's Speech road trip or guided tour from these stories: the Berkshire town of Bray, for instance, is missing a trick in not cashing in more on its connection to the divorce of Wallis Simpson and previous husband Ernest). These elements all combine to give deeper insight into the monarchy and highlight the aspects that were used to create the film. The sheer detail of the material further embroiders what we already know and increases fascination in a set of people and a period of history in whom and which there is so much more scope for understanding and research.

There is little focus, however, on the technical aspects or "behind the scenes" elements of the making of the film itself, which may prove disappointing for some people. For a historical insight into the people involved, though, Logue and Conradi fulfil their purpose perfectly.

This enjoyable read handles a set of complex people, places and circumstances in a truly accessible way, and places great confidence in the other historical works by Peter Conradi.  Anybody who enjoyed the film of The King's Speech or has any interest in the Royal Family or this period of history will gain something from this fascinating collection of recollections and primary sources.

other works by Peter Conradi
The Red Ripper: Inside the Mind of Russia's Most Brutal Serial Killer (1992)
Mad Vlad: Vladimir Zhirinovksy and the New Russian Nationalism (1994)
Hitler's Piano Player (2004)
Royale Europe (2011)
The Great Survivors: How Monarchy Made It into the Twenty-First Century (2012) 

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