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The British monarchy on screen$
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Mandy Merck

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780719099564

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719099564.001.0001

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When words fail: The King’s Speech as melodrama

When words fail: The King’s Speech as melodrama

Chapter:
(p.384) 17 When words fail: The King’s Speech as melodrama
Source:
The British monarchy on screen
Author(s):

Nicola Rehling

Publisher:
Manchester University Press
DOI:10.7228/manchester/9780719099564.003.0018

The King’s Speech is paradigmatic of the contemporary trend of representing the British monarchy through melodrama, a mode the traditionally sides with the powerless. “Bertie” (George VI) is a melodramatic figure whose integrity is underscored, in Linda Williams’ phrase, by “the literal suffering of an agonized body”. His speech impediment literalizes the psychic wounds caused by both the demands of royalty and his austere father in this Oedipal melodrama. Like his familiar nickname, his stammering renders him identifiable, despite his selfconfessed ignorance ofhis common subj ects. Melodrama, in Peter Brooks’ influential formulation, offers moral legibility in a post-sacred era, but only in individualized terms. Bertie’s hysterical symptoms confirm his virtue and that of the monarchy as institution via a relentless focus on the private realm, with the spectre of class antagonisms and republican protests evoked only to be dismissed. Bertie’s stammering speaks the burden of royalty, while also providing a vehicle for exploring the effects of the reterritorialization of the public/private distinction in the wake of the new mass media. His final broadcast unites the nation, reinvigorating the national body ailing from his brother’s abdication, triumphantly readying it for war.

Keywords:   The King’s Speech, Melodrama, Monarchy

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