Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I decided to take in a Saturday matinee, and tramped through the rain to see “The King’s Speech.” Though it has had a lot of press and some Oscar nominations, I didn’t know much about it, except that it was about King George VI and the speech impairment from which he suffered.
I am embarrassed to say that I never knew anything about George VI—and never even really thought about him in connection to World War II, instead attributing Britain’s strong leadership during that time solely to the audacious Winston Churchill. I really knew George’s story mainly from the point of view of his brother, David, who just before the war, abdicated the throne in order to make off with his paramour, the infamous divorcee Wallace Simpson.
To my surprise the movie’s narrative had little to do with David’s renouncement of the crown. Rather, “The King’s Speech” is about George’s struggle to overcome his speech impediment and take on the royal mantle; to do so, he enlists the aid of a therapist named Lionel Logue, and the two develop a close friendship that endures all the years of the king’s reign.
I hope I am not making the movie sound predictable or boring because it is anything but. It is a story of courage and perseverance and strength in the face of quite insuperable odds. Without the ability to give public speeches to his subjects in the face of wartime, to have no voice and to be cocooned in silence during the throes of a world war would have been disastrous: it took real valor for George VI to overcome his paralytic stutter.
The movie really brought home to me how many kinds of bravery there can be. The king faced a microphone as his tongue twisted spastically, trying in desperation to communicate to his nation, ultimately drawing deeply on sheer nerve and perseverance. Dealing with the king’s insecurities, Lionel Logue lifted his voice persistently, sometimes even in the face of the king’s anger at his “familiarity,” as he broke through the wall of superficial class separations to give George the treatment he resisted and yet needed so desperately. Logue dared to speak up for what he believed: that the brother of a king could go on to be king himself, during a time of his country’s crisis, by learning to manage his lifetime of crippling silence.
Those of us who live in the shadow of depression, blinded by the darkness of our illness, speechless with terror at what will become of us as we stand alone in the black void—are we are no less courageous? On each day that we rise from our beds to face the world again with a tremulous hand, we tap down into our reserve, now so severely threatened, of courage. It takes guts to do what we must if we are to return to the land of the living, to say, either softly or, even better, in a shout: “we are here, just a room away, and we desperately need your help.”
It takes a lot of courage to learn to speak. King George VI did it, Lionel Logue did it, and so do all those who at last raise their voices against the tyranny of depression.