Over the weekend I went to see “The King’s Speech.” So far the film, featuring Colin Firth as a soon-to-be-king-of-England with a speech impediment, and Geoffrey Rush as his ill-credentialed but trusted speech therapist, has earned top critics’ awards and 12 Oscar nominations. This is a movie that’s hard not to like for one reason or another, at least most of the way through. It uplifts, it draws on history, it depends on solid acting.
What I liked best, though, is the work’s rare depiction of a complex relationship between two imperfect, brave, and dedicated men. At some level, this is a movie about guys who communicate without fixating on cars, football (either kind), or women’s physical features. Great! (Dear Hollywood moguls: Can we have more like this, please?)
The film’s medical aspects are four, at least: The stuttering, the attitude of physicians toward smoking, a closeted sibling who had epilepsy and died at an early age (just mentioned in passing), and the king’s trusted practitioner’s lack of credentials.
At the start, Prince Albert (young King George VI) has a severe speech impediment. It’s said that he stutters, and on film Firth does so in an embarrassingly, seemingly extreme and compromising degree. He’s the second of George V’s sons, and might or might not succeed to the throne depending on events in history, his older brother’s behavior, and his capacity to serve the Empire at the brink of war. Being effective as the king of England in 1936, and especially at the start of war in 1939, entails speaking confidently.
Prince Albert’s been through the mill with doctors who’ve tried to help him talk. Some recommend he smoke cigarettes — these, they advise, would help him to relax because they’re good for the nerves, they say. One asks him to speak with a mouthful of marbles, on which this doctor watching the film worried he might choke. Eventually Albert’s wife, Elizabeth (Queen Mother to be), finds a speech therapist in London, Lionel Logue, who uses unorthodox approaches with, by rumor, exceptional results. Eventually Prince Albert — or “Bertie” as the therapist insists on calling him — trusts and accepts help from this peculiar Australian who, it turns out, developed his methods of assisting stutterers through his work with shell-shocked soldiers in WWI. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*