January 12, 2011

Inspired to speak: The King's Speech

When's the last time you watched a suspense movie about a speech therapist who saves the day? The suspense is not "Will he stop the villains from dropping the bomb and decimating New York City?!" but rather, "Will the king give the speech without stuttering?"

An inspiring and moving film, The King's Speech tells the story of the reluctant king, George VI, in the years leading up to his coronation and first major speech of World War II, and the man who helps him overcome his fearful approach to speaking (and life).

Lionel Logue, the struggling speech therapist with no credentials but "a great deal of nerve," takes the case of Albert (aka "Bertie") the Duke of York, who has managed to successfully remain in the shadows of his father, King George V, and his older brother and successor to the throne, Edward.

A couple of fateful events conspire to drive Bertie into the limelight.

First is the advent of "wireless," where now every royal speech is broadcast to the public with the result being, as the king laments, "We've become actors." When the anxious Bertie gives the closing remarks at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, it becomes painfully clear that this head of state will be a laughingstock if his stammering and nervousness are not extinguished.

Then the king dies, and with a reign of only 325 days, brother Edward VIII abdicates the throne, finally thrusting Bertie into the dreaded role of king.

There are some recurring themes in this movie, themes which, coincidentally, have influenced much of my writing on this blog.

1. Confidence

Lionel Logue is loaded with confidence. He may not have credentials, and he may be happily poor, but when it comes to his clients, there is no doubt he can help them. When he discovers that "Mr. Johnson" is actually the Duke of York, it does not change his mantra of "My game, my turf, my rules." He insists upon equality with his clients (he calls them patients), no matter who they are.

Bertie, on the other hand, has not a shred of confidence. Having grown up ridiculed because of his stuttering, and having suffered many other indignities because of illness and other perceived weaknesses, he sees himself as unworthy of an audience, much less a kingdom.

How does Lionel help Bertie build his confidence? You'll have to watch. :-)

2. Fear and courage

As Lionel tells his wife, Bertie is "afraid of his own shadow." Through physical exercise, breathing, conversation and a variety of (sometimes questionable) techniques, Lionel guides Bertie through the process of facing his fear, his frustration, his setbacks, and his ultimate responsibility. When Bertie and his wife, Elizabeth, first hear his recorded voice, overcoming Bertie's challenges begins to seem possible.

3. Faith and belief

Lionel first developed his methods with shell-shocked soldiers. He had no training, but found that the most important aspect of his work was to give them "faith in their own voices." Through his work, his studies of public speaking and acting, and through his own intuition, he developed methods to help those with impaired speech.

Lionel demonstrates rock-solid faith in his methods, as they have worked for his patients for more than 30 years. Bertie, however, has much work to do to find his own faith in himself; yet without faith in his words, his voice and his abilities, he will be unable to successfully rule. The moment Bertie blurts out "Listen to me... Because I have a voice!" is a startling and satisfying one.

What does it take for Bertie to believe in himself? You'll have to watch!

4. Trust and safety

The issue of trust is woven throughout the story. Trust between Lionel and Bertie, trust between Bertie and his wife, trust within the royal family, and trust between the king and his people. Bertie does not feel safe, he does not have trust, and without these, it's difficult for him to move forward and make progress. Lionel slowly gains Bertie's trust and friendship, allowing Bertie to open up and explore the personal issues that have contributed to his stammering.

All relationships, whether personal or professional, are based on trust. Without it, there's a precarious sense of being at risk, uncertain, uncomfortable. We have to trust ourselves and others in order to feel fully comfortable expressing our ideas and opinions.

5. Practice

Ha! Did you think there was going to be a magical solution to Bertie's stuttering and fear of speaking? Not a chance! Bertie practices his speeches and vocal exercises for at least an hour a day in order to improve, build confidence and retrain his mind and mouth. He is dedicated, and he understands the value of commitment in order to work through his difficulties. There is no easy answer in this story.

I found Bertie's tension and anxiety during his speeches nearly unbearable; the movie does an excellent job of recreating the suspense and anticipation with brilliant acting and dramatic music. I felt as though I were the one giving the most important speech of my career!

I also enjoyed the many intuitive methods Lionel used with Bertie, from the common sense requirement that Bertie quit smoking, to a vocal exercise that, well, let's just say you'll want to cover your children's ears. Lionel's tricks are often just as simple as turning off the red light in the radio sound booth (indicating on-air), so as to reduce Bertie's mental stress. "We don't want that evil eye staring at you all the way through," he says.

At its core, this movie is about relationships, trust and transformation. It's beautifully filmed, powerfully acted, with plenty of humor and plenty of dramatic suspense. Everything I love in a movie, and about public speaking, too! I walked away feeling incredibly motivated to give a great speech. I hope others feel inspired to speak (or face any major challenge) after watching The King's Speech.

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Sarah Gershman said...

Lisa - This is a wonderful analysis of a truly great movie. I also recently blogged about it - and would always welcome your thoughts.

All the best,

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your comment, Sarah. I enjoyed how you picked one simple point to emphasize in your post. I will see that movie again and again.

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