One could recognize who were the sympathetic characters and who were not in The King's Speech. The sympathetic characters were those who displayed on the Duke of York, as in his wife Elizabeth, and his public challenges with a stutter. Those who were unsympathetic showed a lack of compassion for the man and instead displayed their own desire to get him fixed so he can do his job - or remind him that he can't do the job because he could not be eloquent in public.
The Archbishop of Canterbury does not fare well in this film. He is portrayed by one of my all-time favorite actors, the now-knighted Sir Derek Jacobi. By casting him in this role, it was clear the role was taken seriously, but the person of the archbishop was not. He consistently was more concerned by how things looked, then cared for the man, Bertie.
That being said, the scene that caught my attention was when Lionel Logue, portrayed brilliantly by the acclaimed actor Geoffrey Rush, is rehearsing King George VI in preparation for his coronation. By Lionel's assistance on equality (also a sign of the 21st century breaking through), they have formed an unconventional friendship of trust. They are practicing his responses to the questions he will be asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury. They go through the secular aspects of the service, but in the film when the reach the section having to do with the sacred oaths he takes, Lionel skips over it, saying yadayadayada for that section of the text and and calling it rubbish.
I was astonished - not only because the sacred aspect of the service was called rubbish, but that I haven't heard or read commentary about it the comment. I sat there in the dark theatre thinking, now why did the screenwriter do that? It was presented almost humorously, but we are not told what section is being castigated as rubbish.
The 21st century broke through the film in that moment. Certainly as Hitler was preparing his march across Europe and England would soon go to war, the hope of God's call and assistance on this particular man in this particular time was acute. It was not a moment for rubbish.
But today the position of the Church of England and it's subsidiaries in the Anglican Communion are humorously dismissed in a major film that is positioned to garnish even more acclaim and recognition at the upcoming Academy Awards. It is all now rubbish.
And friends, I think that rather then pointing fingers at the film, the film is merely reflecting, even projecting what is the view of the church in the culture.
Here is the section of the Coronation from the text of King George VI's daughter, Queen Elizabeth II that apparently remains the same for each coronation:
Madam, is your Majesty willing to take the Oath?
And the Queen answering,
I am willing,
The Archbishop shall minister these questions; and the Queen, having a book in her hands, shall answer each question severally as follows:
Archbishop: Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?
Queen: I solemnly promise so to do.
Archbishop: Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?
Queen: I will.
Archbishop: Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel?
Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law?
Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England?
And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?
Queen: All this I promise to do.
Now an argument can be made that it serves this particular story that this section having to do with the King's position with the Church should be overlooked, but to take it a step further and call this section by the most sympathetic person in the film, after the King himself, rubbish speaks volumes as to how the Church and these vows are viewed. The moment is played for a laugh.
It indeed, most ironically, it is a sobering moment in the film. It is this moment I think we should perhaps take seriously as we contemplate the next steps in facing the crisis in the Church of England, in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion and how the church is viewed by today's generation. Are projected well-meaning actions on all sides now seen by the very people we wish to reach as being nothing more than rubbish? Is the church's authority, as Canterbury is presented in this film and the commentary by Lionel Logue, now merely irrelevant?
announced that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has been re-elected to serve on the Primates Standing Committee. This is not surprising since she was present at the meeting Ireland and those who may have put forward other candidates were not there, and not without good reason. That Bishop Schori will now also have to face the Archbishop of the Sudan, who was also elected to represent the African provinces, at future meetings is heartening. His witness has been far far from rubbish - it has proved to be essential. His appointment to the Primates Standing Committee It will no doubt mean that the future Primates Standing Committee meetings will look quite different from the ones Bishop Schori has all ready attended (in fact, she will miss the first meeting after Ireland since it conflicts with an Episcopal House of Bishop's meeting). If the last Lambeth meeting in Canterbury in 2008 is any indication, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul does not and will not mince words or actions in confronting the Episcopal Church, as he and the Bishops of the Sudan did at Lambeth 2008 much to the surprise of the Episcopal Church that spent two weeks attempting to lobby the bishops of that province into accommodation and silence.
What then makes the church relevant? How is that communicated effectively, accurately, and transparently. As we look forward, it is not a sobering moment to reckon that the perception so far of the Anglican Church may be viewed - as it is in this film or those who see the film - not as a struggle over truth, over compassion, over scripture, over revelation - but rather that it is now viewed by this generation as rubbish? Are the solemn oaths the monarch takes now so easily dismissed as pointless? And is the Archbishop of Canterbury assumed to be an irrelevant and unsympathetic character out of touch with the true needs of not only a king, but his people?
Rubbish did not unite the British people to resist a vicious dictator marching across Europe. And rubbish will not bring good news to a generation seeking meaning and community and love. We are not so different from those men and women in the late 1930s - the need for hope in the face of fear is still as important today as it was then. It is the theme of this film and juxtapose that against Lionel's dismissal of the sacred should cause any of us to pause - at least I hope so.