Finding our voice
BSA trustee John Evans took part in a debate at a screening of The King's Speech in Cardiff. This is a shortened version of his contribution.
For me the high point of The King's Speech was to hear Albert Windsor cry out, "I have a voice" - and to know that he did make that voice heard: a voice not of perfection, or grand oratory, but of dignity and courage. Oscar nominee, David Seidler, who wrote the screenplay of the film, has stammered all his life, and I feel sure that scene draws on his own life's journey.
What helped the future King find his voice, and become a symbol of a Britain struggling against adversity?
From my experience I would mention three things, which the film brings out well:
First, his own sense of who he was - that he mattered, that his values mattered and that it was important for him to live his life according to those values. He felt he had a destiny that was bigger than his feelings, bigger than his fears. He accepted that he needed to fulfil that destiny as best he could, with his speech disorder.
He was, of course, never able to remove his stammer completely, and after some time, he probably never expected he would. One of the hardest things about going for speech therapy for the first time as an adult is when you say, "Please tell me how to make this go away - I will do anything - I just want to be normal" only to be told, "At your age, it is probably not going to go away. All we can do is to help you to manage it." That is not what you want to hear - yet it is often possible to manage a stammer very well, to reach an accommodation with it, and to live a happy and fulfilled life.
Second, I would point to Albert's determination and his willingness to work hard, to call himself into question, and to accept a great deal of distress. He initially gave up on the therapy because it was so difficult for him to deal with that pain - and I am not referring to the scene about the marbles!
Third, there was something I would call, "enabling love".
There was the unconditional love of his wife, known for so many years as the Queen Mother.
There was the expert friendship and care of Lionel Logue. We are not privy to the exact range of methods he used with Albert Windsor, but Richard Oerton in his article vividly recalls Logue's kindness and acceptance.
Stammering is a condition that does not respond very well to will-power on its own. However, when effort is applied in the right direction, and when we are liberated by that mysterious thing called love - or grace - then we can learn to find our true voice and make it heard.
What traps us all in unhelpful behaviour patterns is the opposite - ridicule, humiliation and shame, leading to secrecy and withdrawal. Laughing at people who stammer tends to lock them into their stammering. So many people who stammer bear the scars of ridicule in school from teachers acting, often with the best of intentions, like Albert's father, King George V, and from other schoolchildren acting... like schoolchildren.
The effect of the film on attitudes to stammering has been palpable. Stammering is becoming something that can now be talked about openly. At least one person who stammers has been portrayed as a hero.
However, the message of the film will need to be sustained once the Oscars are over. That is why the British Stammering Association has launched a continuing "Appeal for change". Please visit www.stammering.org/change to find out more about it.
John Evans's full talk is at http://cardiffsciscreen.blogspot.com/2011/01/hearing-our-voice-by-john-evans.html
From the Spring 2011 edition of Speaking Out, page 6.
The King's Speech
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