The King’s Speech

“Waiting for me to commence a conversation, one can wait rather a long wait.” 

Prince Albert (Colin Firth) seeks the help of a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to manage his stammering. Forced into a position that requires a royal amount of speaking, the new King and his speech therapist must find a way to conquer stuttering as the country enters a World War.

Bertie’s Problem
He’s got a bit of a temper, but he also carries the weight of a nation on his shoulders. That said, Bertie stutters. Unlike normal rules where I cannot diagnose real people, stuttering is an obvious disorder – to those that have the problem, and those that ever hear them speak. History did the diagnosing for me.

Colin Firth as King Albert and Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth take a moment to collect their thoughts in “The King’s Speech”

A speech impediment, some clinicians believe that stuttering is a type of anxiety disorder manifest as hesitant speaking. Bertie adopts a really interesting mechanism for “hiding” his stutter; when he senses hesitation, he simply pauses and swallows his words. It is subtle, but not adequate to make him a suitable public speaker.

One of the most fascinating things about stuttering is that no one is quite sure where it comes from. Plenty of theories exist as to its origins, but stuttering does not characterize low intelligence and it is not explained totally by genetic or emotional traits. Instead, a few ideas suggest how Bertie got himself tongue-tied in the first place:

  • Genetics
    Some studies indicate that genetics influence a person into stuttering; however, if one believes that stuttering is a behavior – and behavior is learned – then this is not a fully satisfying explanation. Furthermore, there is no historical suggestion that Albert’s brother or father stuttered, so this seems unlikely.
  • Anxiety
    Clinicians demonstrate that people who stutter know what they want to say, but are unable to form the words as eloquently as they form their thoughts. As soon as words meet their mouths, any confidence gets lost in translation. It is true that being in a royal family could predispose someone to anxiety.
  • Emotional Abuse
    There are nudges in The King’s Speech toward the idea that Albert’s father was very tough on him. Perhaps the stuttering made his father frustrated or his father believed this should be fixable. Either way, his father’s perceived disapproval coupled with any level of anxiety probably did wonders to exacerbate the speech impediment. Lack of confidence is common in children with emotionally disapproving parents, and it is possible that Bertie’s inability to speak clearly comes from a notion that nothing he says will ever be good enough.
Colin Firth as King Albert and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel preparing for a chat in “The King’s Speech”

Luckily, England had speech therapists back in the day! Who knew that profession had been around for so long? It just goes to show us that even people who “have it all” still need a little help now and then.


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