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Film / Bertie and Elizabeth

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Bertie and Elizabeth is a made-for-TV romance movie about King George VI ("Bertie") and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. It depicts their life together, from their first meeting to his death from cancer in 1952.

This telefilm provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: The film does everything it can to give audiences the impression that David and Bertie are the only two sons of George V and Queen Mary. In actuality, they had six children - five sons and a daughter - of whom David and Bertie were the two eldest. Their younger brothers, Prince Henry and Prince George, both took a very active role in helping Bertie reign (and George died in a plane crash during WWII, the highest-ranking British casualty of the war). Their sister, Princess Mary, who appears as The Cameo in the background at the beginning, was always closest to David and disliked the family's treatment of him after his abdication. (Their youngest brother, Prince John, died of an epileptic seizure in 1919, before the film begins.)
  • Angrish: David, when visiting to ask for an allowance increase, ends up insulting Elizabeth as Bertie's "common little wife." Bertie is so enraged that he loses all ability to articulate himself, going into a fit of red-faced coughing and stammering as he declares the interview over.
  • Artistic License – History: In a variation on this trope which is likely a character error, given Queen Mary's passion for royal history and genealogy, she remarks that the last commoner to marry into the Royal Family was Anne Boleyn, and that "up until he had her beheaded", it was a roaring success - in fact, it was Anne Hyde, the first wife of James II.note Unlike Anne Boleyn (who, like Elizabeth, was the daughter of an Earl, and was also a Marquess in her own right), Anne Hyde was not a Blue Blood - her father was a lawyer and MP who had been knighted for his services to the crown. (After the marriage, he was created a Baron and then an Earl.) It's easy to see why Anne Boleyn was mentioned instead - she's more recognizable and her ultimate fate makes for a funnier punchline.
  • Balcony Speech: George VI gives several of these, even though he has a stammer.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Elizabeth looks quite well in her sky-blue sweater, and her daughters the princesses are also portrayed as quite lovely.
  • Berserk Button: Don't insult Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in front of Bertie. Just... don't.
  • Blue Blood: Although Queen Mary calls Elizabeth a "commoner" - and is technically correct, since Elizabeth does not hold a title in her own right - she is the daughter of the Earl of Strathmore, and therefore from one of the UK's most illustrious noble lines.
  • Broken Pedestal: Bertie adores and admires David (the future Edward), who is much more charming, sociable, and eloquent. But David's irresponsible courtship of Wallis reveals just how selfish he is, and by the time of the abdication Bertie is disgusted with his brother.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Elizabeth assures Bertie that the new speech therapist she's located is not a "quack" like all the others. Instead, it's quite an informal Australian who immediately puts Bertie to some unorthodox exercises. This, of course, is Lionel Logue, who would get his own spotlight eight years later.
  • The Chains of Commanding: This is why Edward sobs at his father's deathbed—he's not affected by the death as much as the fear of taking the mantle of kingship.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: Inverted and Deconstructed. Edward VIII is portrayed as being perfectly fine with privilege but unwilling to make sacrifices. George is The Dutiful Son and splendidly fulfills the role chosen for him by society. Edward is shunned for it, and the sympathy is with the shunner, not the shunnee.
  • Cool Old Lady: Queen Mary, a no-nonsense lady with a dry sense of humor, played with aplomb by Eileen Atkins. (As she would again in The Crown (2016).)
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: A mild version. Bertie is a shy man with a stammer. And Those Wacky Nazis had better not mess with The British Empire on his watch.
  • Curse Cut Short: Twice, in the same way and over the same subject. An angry Bertie is describing Wallis Simpson and cuts himself off by stammering, unable to finish his thought. Possibly just as well, since the second time was in front of Queen Mary.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The discussion about whether or not Bertie and Elizabeth's wedding should be broadcast on radio is treated with an almost comical gravity, when a courtier says with dismay that people might listen to it in pubs. David, who is present at the discussion, bursts out laughing.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: The "structural changes" in Bertie's lungs is a euphemism for cancerous tumors.
  • Determinator: Bertie, in spite of his misgivings, won't give up in the face of challenge. His speech therapist, Lionel Louge, tells off a courtier who is fretting about the stammer for not realizing the simple fact that Bertie doesn't quit.
  • Ermine Cape Effect: Bertie's coronation cape is suitably grandiose for the occasion.
  • Exact Words: David swears to his father that his relationship with the married Mrs. Simpson is 'clean', "on his word of honor"... which since he doesn't particularly have much honor or value it, makes it quite easy for him to say whatever he wants to get whatever he wants.
  • A Father to His Men: General Montgomery is said to be loved by his troops, and he gets quite emotional when remembering the thousands of his men who died in defeating Rommel.
  • Gallows Humor: Bertie remarks on his cousin in the German air force when Buckingham Palace is bombed during the Blitz.
  • Good Is Old-Fashioned: Bertie and Elizabeth have an old-fashioned concept of duty. Edward who is more "modern" is a Royal Brat.
  • Happily Married: Bertie and Elizabeth, of course. The whole premise of the film is how they love and support each other throughout the abdication and World War II.
  • The Heart: Bertie and Elizabeth. Their job was to be the Heart of The British Empire and give encouragement to their loyal subjects while they are giving what-for to Those Wacky Nazis.
  • Heroic BSoD: Bertie breaks down when he tells Queen Mary about Edward's abdication, completely terrified at the prospect of becoming king himself.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Discussed by the Russell Baker when he presented the PBS special, saying that the harsher depiction of Edward VIII reflects a changed historical perspective of the king who put aside his duty to pursue his personal desires—contrasted with George VI's refusal to leave London during the Blitz. (Edward and Wallis were also Nazi sympathizers, which is briefly shown.)
  • Honor Before Reason: In their quiet way, both George and Elizabeth live this trope. But perhaps the best example was their refusal to go into safety or even send their children into safety. As Elizabeth put it, "The children will not go without me; I will not go without the King; and the King will never leave his country."
  • Hot Consort: Wallis Simpson is almost a Gaussian Girl when she's introduced, a glamorous American divorcee.
  • I Lied: Edward assures his father that the rumors of him sleeping with Wallis are totally unfounded, on his word of honor. Minutes later, Edward tells Bertie "I told him what he wanted to hear."
  • Incurable Cough of Death: The cough that signals Bertie's fatal lung cancer appears after he weds his daughter Elizabeth to Philip Mountbatten.
  • Kick the Dog: Wallis has Edward fire servants who have served the Windsors for years.
  • Lady of War: Invoked. Elizabeth is shown doing a Take That! against Britain's enemies by having four targets painted with a Dartboard of Hate (two with swastikas, two with a cartoon Hitler), for her to take pistol practice on them.
  • Mama Bear: Subverted. Elizabeth decides without batting an eyelash that her children have to stay during the Blitz. But then her job was to be Britain's Mama Bear.
  • Modest Royalty: They are shown eating fish-cakes because of rations.
  • One-Steve Limit: Since her mother was also Elizabeth, the princess considered herself to be and was addressed by family, friends, and husband as "Lilibet".
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: David, the future King Edward VIII, and his younger brother and successor Bertie, the future King George VI. Also Bertie's daughter Lilibet, due to the above real life One-Steve Limit.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: When David turns up asking for Wallis to be recognized and starts complaining that he was forbidden from marriage even though he was king, Bertie gives him a righteous telling-off and says that a king is in service to his subjects, not the other way around.
  • Remittance Man: Edward and his wife are sent to Coventry by the entire upper class.
  • Right Behind Me: Bertie and Elizabeth walk into the room in the midst of Wallis mockingly imitating her.
  • Royal Brat: Edward is a grown-up version who thinks that being royal means he can do whatever he likes, not that he has responsibilities to carry out and standards to uphold.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Bertie and Elizabeth take their job, ceremonial as it might be sometimes, very seriously. When Edward gets irritated at not having his calls returned, Bertie tells the messenger to reply that being king is hard work. Their daughter Elizabeth is also part of the Women's Auxilary Territorial Service during the war, where she served as a mechanic.
  • Security Cling: When Buckingham Palace is bombed, Bertie and Elizabeth run to a point of safety and cling to each other - or rather, Elizabeth clings to her husband. It's one of the few times we see their roles reverse; while Elizabeth is usually the one Bertie leans on, in this case it is Elizabeth who is leaning on Bertie, and he is the one taking care of her. Given that Bertie had seen front-line naval combat during World War I, while Elizabeth never had, it makes perfect sense that he would be the one calm and in control.
  • A Shared Suffering: George and Elizabeth are shown sharing The Chains of Commanding. It has been said, with good reason, that no British monarch has ever owed more to his wife. It was Elizabeth's popularity that swung the decision to have Bertie succeed his brother (as opposed to Bertie's younger brother Prince George), and she was the one who gave him the strength to lead Britain through WWII.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Elizabeth thinks David will suddenly become serious when he inherits, just like Henry V. It doesn't turn out that way.
  • Tough Leader Façade: Elizabeth, particularly when greeting East Londoners after the palace is bombed. She keeps up a perfectly cordial and poised front.
  • Unexpected Successor: George VI was never expected to exist at all—he was the second son, and with David in perfect health there was no reason to think Bertie would inherit.
  • The Unseen: Philip Mountbatten is mentioned but does not appear. There is even a short scene of Princess Elizabeth's wedding which is framed so as to omit the groom.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Edward's social circle is made up of snobby, self-satisfied pleasure seekers.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: After hearing the doctor's report about the "structural changes," Elizabeth asks him how much longer she'll have her husband.