The King’s Speech and Our Problems.
Unless you have been locked away for the last few months you have heard of the critically acclaimed movie starring Colin Firth called The King’s Speech. The film, a bona fide hit at the box office, tells the story of King George VI of the United Kingdom’s speech impediment; from the age of about five onward the man was a stutterer. The condition at times was quite severe, which we see as the movie opens with a scene of the future King (who is merely the Duke of York for most of the film) failing miserably to give a coherent public speech to an assembled crowd.
It is a time wherein the Monarch has become a very public figure in the sense of having to appear and speak publicly. And with World War II approaching the symbolic stability of a Sovereign who can ease the nation with his words becomes all the more vital to the war effort. With the abdication of his older brother, this staggering responsibility falls on “Bertie”. (The name by which King George VI was known within his family.)
Believe me, I am not giving away anything that is not deduced in the trailer when I say that the Duke’s wife (Helena Bonham Carter) eventually enlists the assistance of one Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush), a man with extensive experience in helping those with speech defects. Logue’s methods are, shall we say, unorthodox from the first moment. Indeed so much so that “Bertie” abandons them totally for a while.
I loved the film. It would seem millions loved the film, and it is gathering serious hardware at various awards ceremonies. As with any film, The King’s Speech is without a doubt different things to different people. Or several things to any one person. Most of the very best movies have this quality. I count myself in this latter category, for I found the movie brilliant for a number of reasons.
There is the historical angle. The humor. The fact that it deals with the British Monarchy. Not to mention excellent acting and writing.
Yet there is an added element to this true story which I think contributed not only to my own admiration of the film, but may also be why it has such wide appeal. It is, in the end, the story of a great man that overcomes a great handicap. A handicap for which he is mocked and ridiculed even by members of his own family. A handicap which many back then, and even now dismissed as illegitimate. A handicap that the man himself eventually concluded (falsely) that he could not overcome.
And how did he overcome it? No doubt in the end it was something within himself that won out. A determination, a belief and confidence in himself that was lacking in his early life, but showed up just in time when it was needed the most. Yet it would not have shown up if he had not encountered and worked with the eccentric Logue. A man who had the audacity to speak to the Duke/King in familiar terms. He too called him “Bertie”, ignoring what Shakespeare’s Henry V referred to as “idle ceremony”. Logue opted to address the man as a man. As an equal.
This doesn’t sit well at first with “Bertie”, but there would be no movie if he never learned to accept it, of course. Yet it was perhaps Logue’s strange exercises and questions and conversations, all seemingly without purpose, that shook the protagonist the most.
What am I getting at here? That “Bertie” was brought up from the day he was born with certain and at times unrealistic expectations that go along with being a member of a royal family. Expectations that were dictated by tradition and precedent, with no concern for the individual tastes and difficulties of any given person. Expectations which, one could argue, exacerbated Bertie’s condition, the more he tried to conform to same.
The result was that a great man, a brave man, a witty, intelligent and conscientious man remained unseen by the world. And because this younger Prince, who unexpectedly became King was judged up until that point by what he was incapable of doing as opposed to what he could do, little faith in him existed. Especially when all of the traditional methods of “curing” a stutter had already been tried without success.
Enter Logue, who in the most casual of ways wipes all of that aside. He forgets social expectations, steps over tradition, lays aside judgment, and takes a personal interest. He calls the Duke “Bertie”, and has him singing his way through practice speeches, among other wild actions for a Prince of the Realm in order to prove the stutter could be controlled. More accurately perhaps to prove to Bertie that a great man resided beneath the stutter. Logue, in other words, addressed the man with a problem, instead of addressing the problem itself.
That is perhaps what appealed to me the most about the film. That in spite of all the strict expectations, the accepted science of the day, the knighted doctors and the protocol, it was a man with a funny hat and no tendency to genuflect that was able to help “Bertie” become the King George VI that the nation needed.
I am not royalty. And I doubt that any of my readers are. However I certainly identify with this royal character in this movie. I struggle with the reality of the better parts of me sometimes being obscured by expectations. Traditions. Conventions. As well as my own unique problems and difficulties. I know what it feels like to be assessed not by that of which I am capable, but by things such as a bad resume, being single, a small network, a blog without bells and whistles. Little to no money. No life coach. On and on.
In other words the things that are trappings that come quite naturally to most, but not to me.
There is, as of yet, no Lionel Logue in my life. But throughout my life it has been the rare times when I have been approached or assisted in a unique manner that ignored social covnentions that have had the greatest impact on me. I have come to realize, (as I have often said) that I have control over my own status quo. It is I who can, and will, refuse to accept the social expectations of someone in my position. I will not cower behind what tradition and convention expected of me. I’ll approach my problems, as Bertie eventually did, in ways that nobody finds acceptable, but will one day lead me to where I need to be. And I hope that you will do the same thing, if the conventional isn’t working for you.
And if a Lionel Logue type shows up with unconventional methods and an interest in my success? Well, unlike Bertie I don’t think I will hesitate to welcome his/her advice from Day One. Heaven knows I have absorbed as much of the conventional advice as possible for right now.
Any Lionel Logues in your life?