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Speaking Proudly of “The King’s Speech”

April 15 2011 | by

The King prepares to speak

I was very slow to see the movie “The King’s Speech.” I had wanted to see it for many months, and am overjoyed with having seen it. It’s a movie I will watch many times — I enjoyed it that much. I also drew many parallels between the sometimes despicable ways that speech therapists and others treat people with stuttering problems, including me.

“The King’s Speech” is the story of British King George VI (formerly Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George, Duke of York) and his personal struggle to control his stuttering, or as the King calls it, “stammering.” For Albert (Colin Firth), dealing with stammering is a constant struggle internally, physically, psychologically and socially.

Throughout the movie, Firth, who plays the future king, does a wonderful job portraying the hurdles people who stutter face daily. Firth plays Albert’s character so authentically that I almost believed the actor stutters in his personal life.

Many times during the movie you experience the King’s anger, pain, humiliation and self-doubt about his abilities and manhood as he stutters. You can feel the alienation between him and his father, King George V (Michael Gambon), who expresses anger over his son’s stuttering. In one scene the father shouts at his son, “Relax. Relax!” Albert sits silently unable to respond. Tears are rolling down his cheeks. A situation I have been in hundreds of times.

In another scene with Albert and his brother King Edward VIII (Guy Pierce), Albert shows the hurdles his stuttering poses when he is unable to respond verbally to his brother’s mockery of his stuttering. Albert shows tears, pain and humiliation. I sympathized with the King in this situation because I experienced such situations in my younger years. It took a while to forget them.

There are five lessons regarding stammering one can learn from this movie. First, Albert’s speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) points out, “no one is born stammering.” Second, stammering cannot be cured. Third, no single therapy dominates the field. Fourth, stuttering usually begins around age four or five. And fifth, stuttering may be caused by a terrifying or traumatic incident. It is only once these lessons are realized that real hope for stutterers can truly begin.

Albert tells his speech therapist about one such incident: He was forced to change from being left-handed to right-handed when he was young. This was about the time he started stuttering. Similarly, I started stuttering when I was almost eight after a traumatic experience with my second-grade teacher, who for months wanted me to change from writing with my left hand to writing right-handed. After months of fruitless efforts, one day she repeatedly pounded my left wrist and knuckles with a steel ruler until my hand and knuckles started bleeding. Psychologists and speech therapists attribute this incident with the onset of my stuttering.

There are so many other similarities between Albert’s story and my own. Albert is nearly always fluent when he is angry and cursing, and so am I. That’s because anger can produce fluency for someone who stutters.

At one point, Albert’s therapist gives him some steel balls to put in his mouth and speak. This venture fails and convinces Albert that he’ll never be fluent. I, too, had several speech therapists who suggested that I put a pebble or two in my mouth and speak. This therapy technique was, as you may have guessed, not successful.

As a way to gain fluency, Albert was asked to sing while speaking. I was too. This is an abnormal way of speaking and draws attention to the stutterer’s speech. However, I have never met a person who stutters while singing, particularly while singing in a group.

“The King’s Speech” is also about love, friendship and faith. Albert’s wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) will not give up trying to find a speech therapist who can help him. She finds Lionel Logue and persuades Albert to visit him. She has faith in Albert that he can control his stuttering and be King.

Logue is certain that he can help Albert and is relentless in pushing Albert to his limits. The two men develop a lasting friendship when they realize how important they are to one another, especially Albert, who realizes that Logue’s methods are producing moments of fluency.

“The King’s Speech” is also about Albert’s ability to rally a nation to take it to war. King George VI’s first major test of leadership rests on his speech to the world, via radio, telling listeners why England must go to war. Past experiences standing in front of a microphone resulted in Albert developing an irrational defeatist fear about public speaking. However, thanks to his therapy, Albert delivers a nearly flawless speech. Afterwards, Albert is brimming with confidence. He is a changed man. He has conquered his nemesis. He is a leader. A true King.

“The King’s Speech” is well written, superbly directed and showcases tour de force performances by Firth, Rush and Carter. It’s also devoid of sex, violence and explosive-after-explosive special effects. Despite some cursing, “The King’s Speech” is a family movie, and deserves every single one of its accolades.

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  • MM

    There are films and there is reality. George VI was an ineffectual loser by all accounts, and that was just his wife’s view. Let us not confuse an speech impediment with an overall reality, he was ill-equipped to rule, didn’t want to, and it was foisted on him by his brother who decided marrying a yank was a better option to being a King, the same brother, who came to wales when miners were starving and had no work and said ‘”Something must be done…” so he did it, he abdicated and went to France and made Hitler his guest of Honour, and left the welsh to starve…. No more Royals suits wales fine….

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