Walking out of the Odeon last weekend after an evening showing of The King’s Speech, I felt as if the film had definitely lived up to my expectations. After reading many reviews and hearing all the Oscar buzz, I was prepared for a letdown, but the film certainly fulfilled the hype.
My friends and I were discussing some of the actors later on that evening, and eventually our conversation drifted on to which parts were based in reality and which had been slightly fictionalized (with several other historians in the group, you can imagine this happens quite often!) Further on, it was agreed by all that George VI was unquestionably viewed as a powerful figurehead during World War II, a leader who really did shepherd Britain through the conflict over the radio.
At one point, someone asked me who had filled a similar role in the United States at that time; I replied, of course, that it was President Roosevelt, whose fireside chats throughout the Depression and the war have become legend over time. A bit confused, they then inquired as to whether the President was also the head of state in my homeland – a question that shocked me at first.
As a speaker of the American tongue, it’s natural for me to think of the leader of a nation and its head of state as one entity. Of course, on this side of the Atlantic the Queen is head of state, and Prime Minister entirely separate. But in other countries as well, there is often a combination of people who constitute the heads of government and heads of state; some have both a Prime Minister and a President.
So as I have many times before, I’ve begun to see that there is no right way to do this sort of thing. Growing up in America, the notion of having a queen was appealing, because of course many stories for small children, like the one told by Colin Firth as King George VI to his daughters in the film, revolve around princesses and handsome princes, or kings and queens. But I also remember being told that any girl or boy in an elementary school classroom could grow up and become the President. And that’s certainly something we can aspire to – especially seeing as no little girl in the United States is ever going to grow up to be the Queen.