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Viewer Guide: “The Kings Speech” and “Inez & Doug & Kira”

February 10, 2023 | Richard Peña


The King’s Speech (2010).

This week’s double feature begins with The King’s Speech, the 2010 historical drama directed by Tom Hooper. 

The King’s Speech stars Colin Firth in an Oscar-winning performance as King George the VI. But when we first encounter him, the year is 1925 and he is still Prince Albert, the Duke of York—known to his family as “Bertie” and seemingly miles away from the throne that his older brother “David,” the future King Edward VIII, played by Guy Pearce, will eventually occupy. While David is dashing and self-confident, Bertie is awkward and retiring, mainly due to a debilitating stammer that makes his public speaking engagements excruciating ordeals, with all attempts at conventional treatment providing little help. But after Bertie’s particularly humiliating performance at the closing of the Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium, Bertie’s wife Elizabeth, played by Helena Bonham Carter, can no longer abide her husband’s suffering. Under the alias of “Mrs. Johnson,” Elizabeth makes an incognito visit to speech therapist Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush, who’s become known for his unorthodox techniques. Initially unaware of Elizabeth’s identity, Logue rejects royal protocols and insists that Bertie undergo treatment at his office. Doctor and patient get off to an awkward start, with Bertie bristling at Logue’s attempts to psychoanalyze the possible causes of his stammer. But with the deteriorating health of Bertie’s father King George V, played by Michael Gambon, and David’s scandalous romance with Wallis Simpson, played by Eve Best, the reluctant prince eventually has no choice but to emerge from the shadows to confront his problem—and his unexpected destiny. 

George VI’s story held a lifelong resonance for David Seidler, the British-born screenwriter of The King’s Speech, who had taken inspiration from the King’s struggle during his own boyhood difficulty with a stammer. Seidler began researching his film script in the early 1970s after contacting Lionel Logue’s surviving son, who agreed to provide access to his father’s notes if permission was also granted by Queen Mother Elizabeth. While not averse to the idea, Elizabeth declined approval during her lifetime due to the painful memories involved, leaving Seidler no choice but to wait…another 30 years until after “the Queen Mum’s” death at age 101 in 2002. In 2005, the mother of director Tom Hooper attended a reading of Seidler’s screenplay, and called her son afterwards to say she’d just found his next project. After Paul Bettany and Hugh Grant were initially discussed to star, Colin Firth was ultimately cast as Bertie; however, not long before filming began, Lionel Logue’s grandson Mark revealed previously unknown letters and diaries recounting Logue’s daily sessions with the King. The script was quickly revised to include nearly verbatim text from the rediscovered materials, including the brief sequence following the climactic speech when Logue remarks that Bertie had still “stammered on the ‘W.’” Despite some criticisms regarding simplifications and historical accuracy, The King’s Speech was a critical and box office hit, garnering 12 Academy Award nominations and winning for Best Picture, Director, Actor and Original Screenplay. 


Inez & Doug & Kira (2019).

This week’s double feature continues with Inez & Doug & Kira, a 2019 suspense drama written and directed by Julia Kots.   

The film opens on a funeral reception at the home of Doug and Kira, an engaged couple played by Michael Chernus and Talia Thiesfield, who are also expecting their first baby. The funeral was for Kira’s fraternal twin sister Inez, played by Tawny Cypress, who has taken her own life after a lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder and substance abuse. However, with no note left behind, questions begin to mount for Kira and Doug, along with guilt and regret. But as the couple begin cleaning out Inez’s apartment and try to reconstruct the timeline of her final night, Doug notices troubling details that trigger unsettling memories and dreams. It gradually emerges that the trio’s history is more complicated than it first appears. Intricately layered flashbacks disclose Kira’s sibling rivalry with the ever-troubled Inez, as well as Doug’s complex relationship that went from being Inez’s AA sponsor to…well, something more. As Doug’s investigation grows more obsessive, his relationship with Kira begins to unravel, bringing him face to face with his own demons.   

After graduating from film school, Inez & Doug & Kira’s writer-director Julia Kots worked as an editor for film and television, while trying to get her first feature film off the ground. After nearly a decade of various projects falling apart, she decided to write a story small enough in scale to finance without an outside production company. The resulting exploration of mental illness, suicide, moral ambiguity and complex co-dependent relationships reflect topics that Kots has previously explored in her earlier scripts and short films. Produced on a micro budget in just 16 days, Inez & Doug & Kira was filmed on locations sourced from various friends’ homes. Kots edited the film herself on nights and weekends, while she continued to edit for hire during the day. The film’s impact is maximized by the powerhouse performances of the three lead actors: Michael Chernus may be familiar to viewers from his recurring roles in Apple TV’s Severance, CBS’s TOMMY, and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black; Tawny Cypress is best-known as a lead on Showtime’s Yellowjackets; and Talia Thiesfield’s credits include roles in CBS’s FBI and HBO’s Succession. The film’s haunting score is written by Berlin-based neoclassical composer Lambert, a mysterious personage, whom Kots met and worked with entirely via email.  

Richard Peña is a Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, where he specializes in film theory and international cinema.  

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