The King’s Speech (Part 1): My Impressions

Poster for the movie "The King's Speech"

I was recently surprised to find an email in my inbox from Scott Squires of The Stuttering Foundation. Why would someone from The Stuttering Foundation be contacting me… after all, I’m a self-described “Voice Guy” with significant interest in adult language disorders. As it so happens, Mr. Squires, the foundation’s Director of Marketing and Communications, had read my posts for ASHAsphere and wondered if I’d like to interview the organization’s president, Jane Fraser, about the movie “The King’s Speech.” In the interest of conducting an informed interview with Ms. Fraser (which constitutes the upcoming “Part 2” of this post), I thought it best that I see the movie first. Because it was only in limited release at that time, my wife and I ventured from the wilds of Clarion two hours south to Pittsburgh and took in a showing.

The Kings Speech” is the story of King George VI’s attempt to overcome his stuttering as he ascends to England’s throne in the mid-to-late 1930s. Along the way, he is treated by an Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue, who, through persistence and the application of various therapeutic techniques, convinces the future king that his stuttering can be cured. The movie culminates with King George’s speech to the British Peoples on September 3, 1939 announcing Britain’s entry into what would become World War II. (The actual speech can be heard here.)

During the movie I couldn’t help but be drawn to Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal of eccentric speech therapist Lionel Logue. Now I’m not a movie critic or a stuttering expert or a historian…what I am is an SLP who teaches in a university program responsible for the training of future SLPs. So it is from this perspective that I viewed Rush’s performance (and later “boned up” on the real Lionel Logue). What could I take from the movie to illustrate various facets of professional practice for my students? The movie was rife with examples, both of what to do and of what not to do as an SLP. I’ve chosen one from each category for brief discussion.

From the moment I first heard it, Logue’s promise to cure the future king’s stutter rankled me. And make no mistake, a cure is guaranteed in the movie (“I can cure your husband, but I need total trust”). I fully recognize that I’m viewing Logue’s promise of a cure within the context of contemporary ASHA practice standards. Maybe it was acceptable to guarantee a cure during the period depicted, a form of practitioner bravado or self-assurance designed to instill hope and confidence in one’s patients. Today, however, such an action would be foolhardy, potentially open the practitioner to litigation, and, most significantly, would violate the Code of Ethics to which we adhere as holders of ASHA’s Certificate of Clinical Competence. Specifically Principle I, Rule J: “Individuals shall not guarantee the results of any treatment or procedure, directly or by implication…”. Perhaps my discomfit is simply testament to the degree to which this tenet has been instilled in me by the organizational climate of the profession. And, for the sake of historical accuracy, the king was never “cured” despite Logue’s intervention, but rather continued to manifest a degree of disordered speech. In a December 2010 interview with Mark Medley of Canada’s National Post, Mark Logue (Lionel Logue’s grandson) described King George VI’s speech during a 1944 radio broadcast as manifesting the “watermarks of a speech impediment, signs in the hesitations and the pauses and the breathing.”

ASHA’s Code of Ethics states “individuals shall not reveal, without authorization, any professional or personal information about identified persons served professionally …” (Principle I, Rule N). When working with students in the clinical setting this is a stricture discussed over and over and over again. Logue practiced confidentiality to an admirable extent and could most definitely serve as a role model for students, both as depicted in the movie and in his actual life. At no point does he reveal his client to be the future King of England, not even to his wife and sons (though he, in one scene at the dinner table, is sorely tempted to do so). In fact, Logue’s family never finds out that his client is the king until George the VI shows up in their parlor and, in so doing, reveals himself. Imagine how hard it must be to keep something of this nature to oneself, not even confiding in one’s spouse…to strictly observe all that confidentiality explicitly and implicitly requires…especially when, like the future king, the client is sometimes exasperating and a source of professional discontent.

“The King’s Speech” might be the first exposure some in the general public have to the practice of speech therapy. As such, and despite being a “period piece”, the movie has the potential for shaping how the layperson views the practice of contemporary speech-language pathology. To this end, it behooves SLPs to critically look at the movie from a professional perspective, deciding what on the screen represents an accurate representation of today’s practitioner and what does not (historical differences notwithstanding). The above are but a few of my impressions. What did you like about the portrayal of SLPs? What didn’t you like? Please feel free to share your impressions in the comments section.


The next installment of my series reviewing “The King’s Speech” will share my discussion with Jane Fraser, President of The Stuttering Foundation.

You might find the following sources pertaining to Lionel Logue and “The King’s Speech” both interesting and informative (these were pieces I referred to as I prepared to write this post):

Bowen, C. (2002). Lionel Logue: Pioneer speech therapist. Speech-language-therapy dot com. Retrieved January 12, 2011, from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/ll.htm

Dana. (2011, January 5). Review: The King’s Speech. Stimulated Boredom. Retrieved January 12, 2011, from http://stimulatedboredom.com/historical/review-the-kings-speech/#

Hallett, V. (2010, December 14). Surviving royal treatment: ‘The King’s Speech’ provides history of stuttering treatment. Retrieved January 12, 2011, from
http://www.expressnightout.com/content/2010/12/the-kings-speech-stuttering-treatment.php

Medley, M. (2010, December 13). As a speech therapist, he was fit for a king. National Post. Retrieved January 12, 2011, from http://arts.nationalpost.com/2010/12/13/as-a-speech-therapist-he-was-%EF%AC%81t-for-a-king/

The Stuttering Foundation. (2011, January 10). Stuttering and The King’s Speech. Retrieved January 12, 2011, from http://arts.nationalpost.com/2010/12/13/as-a-speech-therapist-he-was-%EF%AC%81t-for-a-king/

Kenneth Staub, M.S., CCC-SLP, is an Assistant Professor, Communication Sciences & Disorders at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. He will be a regular contributor to ASHAsphere and welcomes questions or suggestions for posts.