Stammering through ‘The King’s Speech’

As far as problems go, not being able to speak without a stutter is a pretty embarrassing one. Especially if you’re King George VI (Colin Firth); radio speeches are pretty routine for rulers, after all (even for figureheads). Especially after Marconi invented the radio.

“This devilish device will change everything,” says his father, King George V (Michael Gambon). “In the past, all the king had to do was look respectable in uniform and not fall off his horse. Now we must invade people’s homes and ingratiate ourselves with them. This family’s been reduced to those lowest, basest of all creatures. We’ve become actors.”

That’s the premise of Tom Hooper’s (director of “Les Miserables“) 2011 Academy Award-winning picture, “The King’s Speech.”

When the film begins, it’s 1925 and Prince Albert “Bertie” Frederick Arthur George (Firth), the Duke of York, was to make a radio broadcast from Wembly Stadium for his father’s subjects.

It’s long and difficult. But as painful as this poor bloke’s pitiful plight is, “The King’s Speech” isn’t a comedy. None of his subjects laugh as he chokes out the words, st-st-stammering; we don’t even see (or hear) the whole speech.

After years of speech therapy, unconventional speech pathologist and an amateur Shakespearean actor Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) tries to conquer the Duke of York’s life-long speech impediment.

“I can assure you that no infant starts to speak with a stammer,” says Logue.

Logue angers Bertie, leading him through songs, nursery rhymes, tongue twisters, and other exercises.

“Anyone who can shout vowels outside an open window can learn to deliver a speech,” Logue says decisively.

“The King’s Speech” is a fascinating period piece into the private life of a monarch. And that’s one of the film’s real strengths. David Seidler’s screenplay lets us into a world hidden behind closed palace gates. Bertie reluctantly relinquishes his manners and control, getting into shouting and swearing matches with his instructor. Logue expertly eggs him on, and not just on matters of speech. He makes sure Bertie also flourishes with his newfound voice. That’s seen in one brilliant scene when Logue sits on King George VI’s coronation throne, watching as the angry and reluctant king stammers at him.

“I have a voice!” Bertie eventually shouts.

“Yes, you do,” Logue answers.

“The King’s Speech” was directed by Tom Hooper and written by David Seidler. The film won 2011 Academy Awards for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Best Achievement in Directing and Best Original Screenplay. “The King’s Speech” also won the 2011 BAFTA Award for Best British Film. 

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