The Line of Duty

Civil war in Europe. Hitler in the ascendancy. It is 1937, and the U.K. must proclaim its new king. Onto the balcony of Buckingham Palace steps George VI. Bertie, as he was known, has two challenges: leave behind his crippling trauma and usher the nation into an uncertain future.
George addresses the people of Britain and the British Empire live on BBC radio at six o’clock on September 3, 1939 — the day of Britain’s declaration of war on Nazi Germany. During his speech the king asked his subjects to “stand calm and firm and united in this time of trial”.

The opening scene of the opening episode of the first season of The Crown makes it clear that Netflix’s juggernaut is unafraid to go straight for the Windsor jugular: here is a man, prostrate and ashen, coughing up blood into a toilet. The man is King George VI (played by Jared Harris). It would be wrong, however, to see this abject scene as some kind of supine metaphor for a reluctant and redundant reign. Despite George’s unlooked-for elevation from spare to heir, on the abdication of his brother Edward in December 1936, and the myriad ways he seemed unsuited to the role of sovereign — the retiring temperament, the crippling speech impediment, the fact that he’d never clapped eyes on a state paper — Britain’s previous king is now regarded as one of its greatest: punctilious, courageous and dedicated, and with a profound sense of duty. His 15 years on the throne saw him embody the stalwart defiance of the nation during the second world war, and skilfully navigate the seismic changes and privations that followed in its wake. “We are not a family, we are a firm,” he liked to say (a coinage that continues to this day, albeit in a more pejorative sense, as readers of Prince Harry’s recent memoir can attest). “The highest of distinction is service to others.”


Stuart Husband


April 2023


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