I went to see The King’s Speech this evening with a friend. For those of you who don’t know too much about it, the movie tells the story of how King George VI overcame his speech defect – he had a stammer – and led England through World War II. He struck up an unlikely friendship with his speech therapist, an out-of-work actor called Lionel Logue, and it was through this friendship that the monarch gave his defining speech to the nation on the day war broke out. This post is not a review of the movie; although Colin Firth (as George) and Geoffrey Rush (as Logue) deserve what awards that undoubtedly will come their way (including, hopefully, an Oscar or two), my never-ending love for the force of nature that is Helena Bonham Carter (who plays Queen Elizabeth) grew deeper. I’ve never had a crush on a royal before – but I do now. Tim Burton, you are one lucky guy.
When I was younger I had a stammer. I remember all too well an incident at school when I was asked to read out a passage in French during class. It was there, written out in front of my eyes, ready for oration in front of the class. But the words wouldn’t come out. If anyone sees the movie and recalls the very first scene where Prince Bertie (as King George was known to his family) is about to give a speech, you will know that he is struck dumb, to the obvious embarrassment of his wife, servants, subjects and himself. I know exactly how he felt. There is nothing more painful, more humiliating that knowing how to speak, but failing to do so. That was my lot in my early teenage years. In primary school, certain sections of unthinking morons bullied me for it; but in secondary school, I was enabled my friends and teachers to come to terms with it. I didn’t go to a therapist because I didn’t know they existed. It didn’t always happen, though; there were times when I was able to read aloud in front of the class. But I suppose a lot depended on where my head was at the time.
And then it went away, all on its own. In my late teens, I was on live TV, participating in televised Mass for RTE, reading from a Bible in front of camera and whoever watched Sunday morning Mass on television. I spoke on stage, too, as part of song and dance show with my class mates and girls from another school. (That’s when I discovered women, by the way.) But my crowning moment occurred when I was in college.
I announced my candidacy for President of the Students’ Union, and so I was required to speak at the Hustings. For a man with a history of freezing at inopportune times, this speech was fraught with danger. But I gave the speech of my short political life. For five minutes I was brilliant and I was elected by a landslide. To this day, any time I have to speak in public and I’m feeling nervous, I look back to those times (especially that day in college) and realise that nerves are natural to the best of us. I just take a deep breath and then get on with it.
Now it comes back every so often, mainly at times of stress, or when I’m tired – or when I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. What I do then is slow things down, organise my thoughts and carry on. I find making a joke about it lightens the atmosphere considerably. So there you go, that’s my personal take on what is a marvellous film. Do yourselves a favour and go and see it.
Note to Colin Firth fans (of which there are many): He is fantastic in this film, but he does not take his shirt off. Thank you for reading.