*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*
Albert Frederick Arthur George and Lionel George Logue.
One of these men had a debilitating speech impediment who also happened to be the reluctant successor to the throne. The other was an elocutionist whose unconventional methods of treating and lack of medical credentials earned him the reputation of being an outsider.
What could these two men, from completely opposing walks of life, possibly have in common with one another?
The answer is, perhaps surprisingly, quite a lot. I would even go as far as to say that the unique relationship they shared makes for one of the most stirring and emotionally portrayals of mental illness in the last century. Logue’s efforts to treat the anxiety and resulting stammer of the fearful monarch is a struggle that many will relate to.
For those who have yet to have the opportunity to see The King’s Speech, Colin Firth ( King George) and Geoffrey Rush (Logue) both deliver emotionally stirring performances that are more than worthy of the Oscars they were both rewarded with for their respective roles. The former plays a man torn between his inner demons and his kingly duties. The latter must act as a pillar of support and trust for a very troubled man. Just take a look at the scene below to see a poignant moment of their relationship:
More specifically, notice these particular lines of dialogue:
King George VI: By divine right, if you must. I am your king.
Lionel Logue: No, you’re not. You told me so yourself. You said you didn’t want it. Why should I waste my time listening…?
King George VI: Because I have a right to be heard! I have a voice!
Lionel Logue: [pauses] Yes, you do.
Lionel Logue: You have such perseverance, Bertie. You’re the bravest man I know. You’ll make a bloody good king.
It was in this moment of the film that I truly felt a connection between King George ( or ‘Bertie’ as Logue affectionately refers to him) and myself. How peculiar is that? One of us was the reluctant successor in a long line of monarchs, while the other is a teaching assistant who balances much of his time doing exactly that and writing on here! Yet Logue is correct when he affirms that we all have a voice and we all have a right to have our voices heard.
For those who are unaware of the science behind stammering, this disorder is referred to as a ‘combination of stuttering and Social Anxiety Disorder, where one condition compounds the other’. This means that, in order to effectively treat the condition, the elocutionist ( or psychotherapist by today’s standards) must confront not only the patient’s physical impediment , but the underlying trauma that haunts them. In the monarch’s case it is the trauma caused by his difficult relationship with his father, King George V , that he has internalised.
The latter, for instance, purportedly encouraged the future King’s siblings to mock him for his stammer in a misguided effort to make him speak fluently. While it is not unusual nowadays for young children between the ages of four and five to be diagnosed with this disorder, in this case, the up and coming King has been encouraged to hide his problems from the public behind his Royal titles.
Indeed, there are many moments throughout the film that demonstrate Logue attempting to get to the bottom of his personal problems; a difficult feat given that the reluctant King is often confounded and sometimes even hostile towards his unconventional methods ( does anyone recall the infamous swearing scene?) .
Yet that’s the thing isn’t it? Strip away all of Albert Frederick Arthur George’s titles, lands and holdings and he is no more or less of a human than you and me. Thus he is no less susceptible to mental impairments than the rest of us – and this is what the films manages to convey marvellously; it humanizes the king and his inner struggles in a way that is neither comic or tragic. Rather, it comes across as a very human and sincere portrayal of the disorder and mental illness in general.
While it is all well and good to turn to more vivid and colourful depictions of mental illness for our entertainment, The King’s Speech is proof, if any should be needed, that a more accurate portrayal of mental illness can make for just as compelling a viewing as those films that choose to go down the route of the ostensibly unhinged and often outwardly violent stereotype of the subject at hand.
In this case, however, if King George had failed in his attempt to conquer his fears who is to know how history would have taken it’s course. The pressure he must have been under is unimaginable.
However, contrary to what the films ending would have you believe, with King George delivering a riveting speech to the nation in the face on the Nazi threat to great applaud of his subjects, the monarch would go on to to stutter for the rest of his life . I feel that this is an important point to highlight. As a film it is necessary to show the protagonist overcoming his demons of course. Yet in reality he was not cured of his condition – he simply learnt how to manage his symptoms.
If a King of the realm can learn how to manage his mental health problems, then who is to say that we, the so-called ordinary people, cannot do the same?
As a side note, below are 8 different occurrences that can disturb fluency in speech. If you suffer from any of these symptoms, you could unknowingly be a stutterer yourself! More than one of these apply to me surprisingly enough. Do any of them apply to you?
(1) sound and syllable repetitions, such as “buh-buh-buh-banana”
(2) sound prolongations, such as “aaaaaaaple”
(3) interjections, such as “um,” “uh,” “ah,” “well, you know”
(4) broken words, such as “pic–[pause]–ture”
(5) audible or silent blocking, which is when the person is speaking but nothing is coming out because there is a stoppage of air, either at the larynx, lips, or tongue.
(6) circumlocutions, which is substituting easier-to-say words for problem ones (think of this as the game of Taboo where you would say any word but the word at the top of the card to avoid getting buzzed)
(7) words produced with an excess of physical tension
(8) monosyllabic whole-word repetitions, such as “I-I-I-I see him” (what we stereotypically think of as stuttering)