How 'The King's Speech' spoke eloquently for those who stutter

From the community that treats and lives with stuttering, an outpouring of fervent praise for Best Picture winner 'The King's Speech.'

By , Staff writer

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    In this photo, Colin Firth portrays King George VI and Helena Bonham Carter portrays the Queen Mother in a scene from, 'The King's Speech.'
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When it comes to stuttering, Best Picture Oscar winner “The King’s Speech” has hit (mostly) just the right note with the community that treats and lives with the affliction.

The film details King George VI’s struggles to overcome a lifelong stutter in order to take his place as the British monarch who would lead his country through World War II. The introduction of radio as a prime communication tool exacerbated his personal travail.

With the exception of some researchers, who say the film could have touched more on the physiological causes for the disorder, those who labor in the trenches of research and education say the film is a welcome influx of positive imagery and role models for the nearly 68 million people worldwide who grapple daily with the indignities of speech dysfluency, as it is known.

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“We all look for role models,” says College of Charleston communications professor Chris Lamb. “As stutterers, we want someone sympathetic,” he says, noting that when he was young, “it was Porky Pig.” He says he grew up thinking that the only viable career option for him was to do voice-overs for Looney Tunes.

The next widely disseminated role model was the character played by Michael Palin in “A Fish Called Wanda.” But, while that figure wasn’t as bad as Porky Pig, he was considered mentally abnormal – again, not a great image.

A serious representation matters, notes Mr. Lamb, because of the self-imposed limitations taken on by many who stutter. “It’s a matter of opportunities not used, new challenges not faced, because,” he says, “who wants to face the excruciating embarrassment of being seen as just another Porky Pig?”

The Stuttering Foundation has issued numerous statements in support of the film, the latest after Sunday night’s win. “It is an eloquently golden night for people who stutter,” says President Jane Fraser in a release.

She adds, “ ‘The King's Speech’ has been a godsend for the entire stuttering community.”

Tom Hooper gave us an inspirational hero, David Seidler gave us an impassioned voice, Helena Bonham Carter gave us a forceful yet supportive spouse, and Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush portrayed the perfect relationship between therapist and patient, an alliance built upon unbreakable trust, mutual respect and lifelong friendship.”

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The big screen dramatization is an excellent educational tool, says Tommie Robinson, Past President of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, who says he uses it in his classroom. “It brought in so much material that the students didn’t want to stop talking about it,” he said with a laugh.

But the most valuable lesson the film delivers is the importance of the relationship between the patient and the therapist. The movie makes the connection between theory and practice, he says, adding, “there is a wide variety of methodologies that can be used, but if you don’t have the relationship, they don’t work nearly as well.”

However, the extreme emphasis on the personal story and interaction between Lionel Logue and King George draws perhaps one of the few critiques from inside this community. While he says he enjoyed the film, stuttering expert at The Methodist Hospital in Houston Dr. David Rosenfield says he would have liked a bit more emphasis on the idea that this is not a purely psychological problem.

“There is so much discussion of the king’s history of being mistreated and afraid of his distant father,” he says, leading any thinking moviegoer with the impression that the problem is purely emotional. Modern research, however, shows that there is a consistent brain motor function associated with speech dysfluency, making it a disease just like any other. “I know it’s a movie,” he says with a laugh, “but it would have been nice to give even just a hint of something other than psychological problems.”

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