Award winning director Tom Hooper helmed all nine hours of the critically acclaimed miniseries John Adams, as well as Longford, Elizabeth I and Prime Suspect.
His new film, which is already receiving Oscar buzz, The King’s Speech, tells the story of King George VI’s struggle to overcome his stuttering, with the help of an eccentric Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), in order to lead the nation during World War II.
Did you know this story of George VI?
I didn’t know it that well. I think I was pretty vague that he even had a stammer. But I think that was one of the things that intrigued me. The story that is generally known is the Edward and Mrs. Simpson story, because particularly on TV they keep remaking this story. I would never ever be interested in telling that story head-on, because it just feels tired to me.
But I loved this story about the younger brother who didn’t want to be king, who has a stammer, who has to become king against his will, right when radio has taken off as a mass media and suddenly these microphones are involved, right when the war is approaching.
And the guy who saved him was this wonderful Australian, a failed Shakespearean actor, not even a doctor, and he’s the person who rescues him. And that bit no one knows until now. You dig deep into those biographies and there’s the odd reference to him. It’s a sentence here and a sentence there.
Nine weeks before the shoot we discovered that Lionel Logue had kept a hand-written diary, which his grandson had in his attic. It had never been read by anyone, by any royal historian, by any biographer, by any member of the royal family, and I got the first access to it. And so we set about rewriting the script based on this firsthand account of their relationship.
Did you make many changes in the script?
Oh God yeah. A couple of the best and funniest lines in the movie are written by King George VI and Lionel Logue. For example, after the big speech Lionel says, ‘You still stammered on the W,’ and the King says, ‘Well, I had to throw in a few so they knew it was me.’ That was last spoken out loud by King George VI and Lionel Logue.
Because it’s not common knowledge that the King had a stammer, did you have any resistance from the royal family now?
No we didn’t actually. David (Seidler, the screenwriter) in 1982, when he first began to think about writing it, asked permission from the palace and the Queen Mother wrote back and said, ‘Yes, but please not in my lifetime, the memories of these events are still too painful.’ And so he waited, little realizing the Queen Mother was going to live to be186!
Can you talk about Colin’s performance, which is unbelievable?
We had this extraordinary moment in rehearsal where we found a bit of archive on a laptop on the Pathe site, which I think is publicly available. It was the Empire Exhibition of 1938 in Glasgow, and the newsreel tried to cut away from his stammer, but whenever they went back to his face you could see these eyes that just wanted to do the right thing, and was just dying inside and drowning in his painful silences. I got tears in my eyes when I saw this four minute clip.
Colin watched it with me and I think was very inspired. Colin (captured it) in his performance, and I think that’s why he’s so moving. I think one of the interesting things about King George VI is that he humanized royalty for people, because the public knew he had a stammer and so when they listened to him on the radio they would be kind of hoping he’d be okay and get through it. He put a real human face on the monarchy.
You had King George VI with his stammer, and you had President Roosevelt in America in a wheelchair, two leaders who both were effectively struggling with disabilities, facing Hitler whose lack of physical disabilities seemed to allow him to grow into this monstrous person. And his disability was sadly moral.
There is such buzz about this movie as the award season begins. What would that mean to you?
Call me old-fashioned but I’m focused on November 26th, and the release being good. What’s so weird is everyone gets so excited about a film that hasn’t made a dollar back, and I would like it to do well. I’d like people to see it, and then let’s see what happens.
I keep sitting in the cinema for this, because what’s not to like about 1,200 people roaring with laughter and then weeping. It’s an extraordinary experience to see in a big group. I want people to have that experience; I don’t want it to disappear. Ask me again in six weeks when the film has come out and it’s doing okay.
Would you like to have a screening for the royal family?
I would like to, but the truth is we still don’t know whether the Queen watched The Queen to this day. No one knows whether she saw it and no one knows whether she liked it. So the reality is that in five years from now I won’t know whether she watched my movie or whether she liked it.