“Did you hear the King’s speech?” A question overheard yesterday, to which I immediately got confused because of my inner reference to the movie The King’s Speech with Colin Firth and Gregory Rush from 2010. No, we’re talking Charles, now King Charles III and while we’re all adjusting to the change of scene to a new lead protagonist in the British monarchy, I started thinking about the place of the voices of George VI, Elizabeth II and now Charles III in our collective experience. In film, in reality, and in other mediums.
George V, the First Royal Voice we All Heard
Although there are tiny clips of recorded history where you can barely hear bits and pieces of Queen Victoria’s voice in audio, the tapes were ancient and the sound quality was low and distorted. The first time a British monarch spoke to a broadcast audience was in April 1924 by George V at the opening of the British Empire Exhibition. It’s thought his speech encouraged the nation to go out and buy radios. Radio brought the King’s voice into people’s homes and made him more real and more impactful on a person-to-person level than any other previous King or Queen. In 1932 he began a tradition (also kept by his son, George VI, and granddaughter, Elizabeth II) of The King’s (or Queen’s) Christmas Message.
George VI, the Historical Royal We Came to Love
If you’ve seen The King’s Speech or The Crown, or Bertie and Elizabeth, you’re familiar with the fact that George VI (Queen Elizabeth’s dad) wasn’t meant to be king. That happened after his brother Edward abdicated in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson. His plight to overcome a speech impediment was immortalized in the Oscar-winning performance of Colin Firth. (The film also won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay). Early speeches by George VI were painful for him and his listeners, but with help, he gets from a therapist, the film culminates with a speech George VI gives (with no stutter) to rally a nation heading into war with Germany.
George VI’s speeches were impassioned and forthright. Through the war and beyond his speeches rallied, fortified and heartened the UK, Commonwealth and allied countries.
Elizabeth II, an Enduring Voice through Time
The late Queen’s first publicly broadcast speech was in 1940, when as a girl of 14, she addressed children evacuated from London in the BBC’s The Children’s Hour with a sincere and sweet message of hope for a better tomorrow. In 1947, when she turned 21, the strong, high-pitched voice of a girl-turned-young woman made a solemn vow of lifelong service. You can hear the conviction, the steadfastness, and the strength in her voice as she delivers her promise. The same confidence filters through her first royal speech in 1952, when she became head of state.
In her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in The Crown, Claire Foy captures the courage and resolve of the young monarch determined to keep calm and carry on despite the heartbreak of her father’s demise.
For 70 years, every Christmas, the Queen spoke to her nation and the rest of the world in her Christmas speech. In 1957, the radio speech was televised. (1957) The late queen’s enlivening messages often talked of staying together and held feelings of hope. She talked with a positive tone laced with integrity, grace, and power.
Portrayals of the Queen have been many. Helen Mirren’s performance garnered an Oscar for Best Actress in The Queen in 2006. Emma Thompson captured her majesty in a TV show Walking the Dogs. In the long-running series The Simpsons, the late queen was voiced by Eddie Izzard, Maggie Roswell and Tress MacNeille.
Charles III, Approachable and Profound
The day after the announcement of his mother’s passing, Charles made his first speech as the new monarch. Around 9 minutes long, he spoke well, giving us a first glimpse of the kind of ruler he may be. His words were sincere, you could feel the depth of emotion just under the control, and portrayal of stability. He felt open and human. The timbre of his voice is in the baritone range, but his gentled tone makes his sound very approachable and pleasing. In this speech, like in others he’s given and in interviews, he speaks purposefully and thoughtfully.
Portrayals of Charles III in the film include Josh O’Connor (seasons 1,2) and Dominic West (seasons 3,4) in The Crown, as well as Alex Jennings in The Queen.
Charles III himself has done a voice-over. An audiobook of a story he penned in 1980 and read in 1984, The Old Man of Lochnager turned into a film as well where he narrated, and Robbie Coltrane played the voice of the hermit. He also has two on-camera IMDB credits where he plays himself: in The East Enders in 2022 and in Coronation Street in 2000. In 2010, Charles narrated Harmony: A New Way of Looking at the World, and (currently) there are 251 IMDB credits where he appears as “Self” in documentaries and videos. Most recently, he appeared as one of the narrators in Lily’s Promise: Holding onto Hope Through Auschwitz and Beyond – A Story for All Generations, by Lily Ebert and Dov Forman.
As mentioned in his speech, he’ll be giving up other pursuits to focus on adopting the role he’s been groomed for all his 73 years. It’s doubtful we’ll hear more of him in film or in audiobooks, but we can assume we’ll hear him at minimum in his annual Christmas speech. It would be very much welcome if it happens more often than that.
Kim Handysides is an award-winning voice artist, and coach. Among her 20K+ narrations, you have heard her on Discovery, Netflix, and the major networks, in iMax, the White House and the Smithsonian.