The King’s Speech: Looking Back at An Initial Take

What follows is an old blog that never got posted, offered for what it’s worth:

Finally got to see The King’s Speech at its opening here in Denver, 12:45 pm on Christmas Day.

Some initial observations:

1. The production is impressive; actors are immersed in their roles; the King’s stuttering is well done by Colin Firth, who also accurately reproduces the worried look of some adult PWS; soundtrack is non-intrusive; all of this creates the uncanny sense of what we identify as “cinematic” reality. 

2. The King’s therapy objectives are to not stutter, especially while reading speeches for live and radio audiences.

3. The clinician (Lionel Logue) respects the client’s wishes and develops a voice/speech motor treatment program designed to do that. This program ( once the King allows) is augmented with some psychological counseling to help build the client’s confidence. Many of the “therapy techniques” turn out to be fluency tricks or stunts rather than activities that would more directly assist in providing the deconditioning required to facilitate the process of stuttering recovery. The primary transfer technique is oral reading in a many that would be described as “chunking and voicing with relaxed pauses;” great for oratory but difficult to use if one doesn’t have the automatic deference provided to a king.

4. The King is successful in learning how to hide his stuttering in public, though he requires the presence of his therapist to coach him through his speeches. It is not clearly explained in the film that the elapsed time between the beginning of the King’s therapy and the triumphant conclusion was more than 10 years.

5. The result of therapy is that the King can put on a credible show of fluency and strength for the British people to maintain civic pride and help them get through the Second World War.

Based on these observations, I don’t personally see how anyone could hope to use this film either as an accurate portrayal of modern stuttering therapy or as a forum to present the complex modern theories about the cause of stuttering in a way that modern viewers of the film can understand. At the same time, the reviews of the film that allude to the “cure” or “overcoming” of the King’s stuttering are totally unsupported, even by the standards of the period the film portrays.

On the positive side, the film demonstrates the frustrating nature of stuttering for the person who stutters, and may even inspire people who have been avoiding stuttering therapy to give it a try. It will offer a chance to educate the public about stuttering by providing a foil with which to compare the real struggle of stuttering and describe modern stuttering therapy approaches, including stuttering modification, acceptance of stuttering and voluntary stuttering.

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