Why do we like King Bertie so much? It’s all to do with a ‘Cat’ he saves right at the beginning of The King’s Speech… No it’s not like a real cat… Hang on, I can explain…
Blake Snyder, writer of ‘Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need’ states that in any successful film you need to write in a specific moment where the protagonist does something that is simply there to endear themselves to the audience.
A scene where they literally save a cat stuck up in a tree would work, but might be considered a *little* heavy handed. So screenwriters have been coming up with inventive ways to get us to get us to fall in love with their characters over the years.
One of the greatest examples of this is in The King’s Speech where Colin Firth as King ‘Bertie’ tells his daughters a charming bedtime story of a penguin stuck at the South Pole. A tale not just meant for them, but also for us.
Screenwriters take note. If your screenplay isn’t working, we probably need to find your main character a cat. And a reason to save them.
Welcome to 10 minute textualism…
In The King’s Speech Bertie struggles with a stutter, which makes it difficult for him to attend to his duties as a member of the royal family. It’s hard for us to identify with a monarch, no matter our sympathies for his predicament. Only a few of us understand what it means to be one, and fewer still are able to actually become one. However, it is much easier to look at his struggles with his speech through the eyes of a father.
Right from the start of the scene Bertie wistfully states, “Oh to fly away.” A nod to the idea that he is not comfortable in his own skin. He wishes to escape, if only someone would let him.
However, Bertie receives minor call to adventure from Princess Margret, which interrupts his identity, “Pappa tell a story.” Public speaking, no matter the size of the crowd, is a daunting prospect for Bertie. He fears that he won’t be able to get his words out and will disappoint his daughters.
At first he refuses the call, as all good heroes should, and hopes that his imitation of a penguin will be enough to placate them. This not only shows his reluctance to speak, but gives a huge visual clue to the subtext of the tale that he will tell, one which allows us to empathize with his current situation.
His daughters are persistent and he relents. Beginning to tell a story, it seems that even with the embarrassment he feels because of his stammer his desire to be a doting father gives him the strength to stumble through a narrative he creates on the spot.
Now the subtext becomes even stronger as Bertie reveals that the penguin in the story was turned into one by a wicked witch. It seems that our penguin is cursed, just as Bertie feels that he is with his stammer. Not only that, but this penguin has found himself at the South Pole. A long way from where he should be: completely lost, alone and away from comfort. This is a frightening adventure world where both our characters (in the film and the story) feel they are stranded.
It seems however this “penguin” is willing to do anything that he can to ensure that he’s with his daughters and swims all the way back to London. Some gargantuan feet by anyone’s standard. It shows the length that Bertie is willing to go to ensure that he is able to give his daughters what they need from their father.
When he finishes the story rather than let the penguin turn into a ‘prince’ as would be at the end of a more traditional fairy tale, Bertie instead quips that he became an albatross. Even in his made up stories it seems that Bertie doesn’t want his protagonist to become royalty. This hints at a much greater theme within The King’s Speech. It’s not really Bertie’s journey to become the orator that fits his station, but his quest to be able to identify with the struggles of the common man so that he might be a better ruler. Something which his mentor Lionel Logue shows him in addition to helping him with his pronunciation.
It’s interesting that the ‘Save the Cat’ moment doesn’t have to be anything connected with the advancement of the narrative. It can be a quiet moment that we can appreciate away from the overall arc of the film. It makes it all the more special that this is an intimate exchange and we feel privileged to experience it. A beat where all ego defences can be dropped momentarily and we’re allowed to look at a character’s subconscious long before they have fully realized it themselves during the course of the film.
So what do you guys think? Is this moment in The King’s Speech a good example of a ‘Save the Cat’ moment? Can you think of any others? Or has this video helped you with your own writing?
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