The film “The Kingâ€™s Speech” won the Academy Award for Best PictureÂ [on Sunday night.] The movieÂ has come in for some criticism for its depiction of the political machinations surroundingÂ the abdication of Edward VIIIÂ andÂ Britainâ€™sÂ appeasement of Hitler.Â The British-born writer Christopher Hitchens, unsparingÂ and deliciously eloquent as always, puts the politics ofÂ Â George VIÂ in a far less favorable light than theÂ movie does.Â Â Â Â Â Â
ButÂ ”The Kingâ€™s Speech” hasÂ won almost universal praiseÂ for itsÂ portrayal ofÂ the reluctant monarchâ€™s stuttering, a speech pattern that includes involuntary repetition of sounds and syllables and â€śspeech blocksâ€ť that cause prolonged pauses. Many youngÂ children who stutter grow out of the problem, but perhaps as manyÂ as one in every 100 adults are affected by the condition,Â 80 percentÂ of whom are men. Stuttering clusters in families, so researchers have been searching forÂ inherited genes that might cause the condition.Â Last year,Â in The New England Journal of Medicine,Â NIH researchers reported some successÂ withÂ results showing an association betweenÂ three mutated genes andÂ stuttering,Â althoughÂ those mutations are probably responsible for a very small minority of cases.Â
Itâ€™s been said thatÂ ”The Kingâ€™s Speech” will doÂ for stuttering what “Rain Man” did for autism: PlantÂ a sympathetic view ofÂ a disability in the public consciousness. OneÂ danger ofÂ suchÂ a quick infusionÂ ofÂ awareness, however,Â is thatÂ it can hardenÂ into aÂ fixed, if largely favorable,Â stereotype.Â We are finding out — or are being reminded — about all the famous people whoÂ have stutteredÂ (many of them writers).Â First-person accounts are popping up all over the place because of the film.Â TheÂ best Iâ€™ve come across isÂ byÂ Philip French, a British film critic, whoÂ describes vividly what it was like toÂ listen to theÂ radio broadcasts of the real King George VI, wondering ifÂ he wouldÂ make it to the end â€ślike a drunken waiter crossing a polished floor bearing a tray laden with wine glasses.â€ť Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*
Over the weekend I went to see “The Kingâ€™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 criticsâ€™ awards and 12 Oscar nominations. This is a movie thatâ€™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 workâ€™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 womenâ€™s physical features. Great! (Dear Hollywood moguls: Can we have more like this, please?)
The filmâ€™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 kingâ€™s trusted practitionerâ€™s lack of credentials.
At the start, Prince Albert (young King George VI) has a severe speech impediment. Itâ€™s said that he stutters, and on film Firth does so in an embarrassingly, seemingly extreme and compromising degree. Heâ€™s the second of George Vâ€™s sons, and might or might not succeed to the throne depending on events in history, his older brotherâ€™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 Albertâ€™s been through the mill with doctors whoâ€™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 Albertâ€™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 â€śBertieâ€ť 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*