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.

Comments

  1. Really good point about the mention of a “cure.” It didn’t occur to me to take issue with that, but it is an issue. Even from Lionel’s non-credentialed perspective, his experience during the war perhaps should have shaped the way he talks to clients about prognosis.

    Other than that, I really liked the film, and think that awareness of our profession, even a version of our profession that looks radically different than today, is a good thing.

    • Sean…Thanks for reading. I liked your statement “from Lionel’s non-credentialed perspective”. One of the things I think get’s overlooked in the publicity surrounding this movie is: Was Lionel Logue a speech therapist? Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe him as an elocutionist, a profession which evolved into speech-language pathology. Bowen’s webpage (referenced at the end of the entry) discusses this and is definitely worth reading.

  2. I’m surprised that you didn’t mention anything about counseling and building the client/clinician relationship, which was such an important part of the story. Lionel needed to go through the process of earning the king’s respect and trust in order for the king to even be open to working with him. Along with the therapy techniques, their relationship and Lionel’s non-judgmental support were the things that helped “Bertie” to overcome his fears of stuttering and develop the confidence he needed to take his place as king and address the public on the radio.

    • Melissa…Thanks for reading. You are most certainly correct about the movie demonstrating the importance of developing a client-clincian realtionship as part of the therapeutic process. This topic is actually discussed in my interview with Jane Fraser, which should be posted within the next week. I chose not to discuss that topic here as this entry was already long enough without adding more (they like these to be approximately 500 words, mine was actually 800-and-something). I, instead, chose to write about those element that piqued my interest and gave me my most significant moments of reflection. I actually believe at some point lengthy, scholarly papers will be published examining speech therapy as depicted in this movie. Again, thanks for reading and your very cogent input.

  3. Alison Cianciolo says:

    Lionel Logue professed to the Archbishop that he was not a speech therapist but in fact an actor that was good with voice when his credentials were questioned before Bertie’s coronation. He was sought out by a person that knew he was “good with voice” to help soldiers coming back from the war.

    The line that rings true to our profession, ” I have given you a voice.”

  4. I am glad there is a well done movie out there about stuttering. As an SLP, however, two things bothered me: 1. Though it may be portrayed historically accurately (and I know the movie is about specific people, and is not seeking to portray the profession as a whole), I wasn’t comfortable with the dependence the king had on his therapist. I feel it is my professional role to foster independence in my clients, not for my clients to have a life long dependence upon me. 2. I feel that Colin Firth could have done a little bit of research (or manybe a little bit more) into what stuttering really looks like. Given the amount of tension that he protrayed in his character, there most certainly would have been secondary characteristics and blocks.

    I do think it was a well made movie with great acting, and an engaging story. And I am glad to see the attention it has drawn to our profession. :)

    • I appreciate you taking the time to read my entry and comment. Though this was most definitely an outstanding movie and brought favorable attention to the profession, I think it behooves us to look at its depiction of speech therapy critically. And, as opposed to lavishing just praise, its my belief that its also important to note things which we, as individual practitioners, find less than accurate or how we’d like to be portrayed.

  5. Jennifer G. says:

    I am a second-yr SLP grad student…the biggest thing in this movie to jump out at me was the sense of advocacy that Logue imparted to the king. In the throne scene, he incites the king and get him to declare that “I have a voice!!” He treated the king with respect, but with the same professional regard that he would anyone else. Also, the emotional impact of having a communication disorder was very accurately depicted in this film…as a mother to a child with Autism, I recognized that and appreciated that very much.

  6. Is this the same Staub who used to teach at MSU in ND about 10 years ago? I’m a former student and just wanted to say hello. I haven’t seen this movie yet, but am looking forward to it and to reading more of your blogs.

    • Mary…this is the same Staub that taught at Minot from 1999-2003. Thanks for taking the time to get in touch…hopefully you had a good experience in my classes and are able to use some of the things I taught. This movie is definitely worth seeing. More blog entries are forthcoming and, if you have the time, there are several others from me on this site that were previously posted.

  7. AR Kreyling says:

    What I most appreciated about this wonderful film was it’s realistic portrayal of the emotional baggage and continuing challenges that come with a communication disorder, not only for the client, but for the family and therapist as well. Observing the king’s response to the well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) lay person interventions of “just relax” and “get it out already!” was very revealing. If nothing else, The King’s Speech was a great film to raise awareness of fluency disorders (and really any communication disorder) to the general public. Best movie I’ve seen in a very, very long time! (Plus, it gives me the chance to educate my friends and family about my profession…which is always a plus.)

    • I appreciate the time you took reading my post and leaving a comment. Your comments hit on one of the things I found to be most powerful about this movie…the “emotional baggage” a communication disorder creates for both the client and his significant others. It seems to me that, in discussions of the movie, Helena Bonham Carter gets overlooked for her depcition of the toll a communication disorder takes on those concerned about the individual affected.

  8. Hi Ken,

    Interesting article. I saw the movie and LOVED it and was excited to see how our profession would be portrayed. I was a little concerned with how set Logue seemed to be in assuming the stutter came solely from psychological history and trauma – this is an outdated (though likely contemporary theory for the period) that I still struggle to explain to my clients today.

    I thought the acting was brilliant and will be very disappointed if Colin Firth does not receive an Oscar. What a character the king must have been! I’m glad he’s been portrayed in such a positive way in this movie.

    Natalie (Dana’s friend)

    • Thanks for reading Natalie (and glad you finally got that Hello Kitty watch…lol). You make a very good point. We view the movie as trained pr0fessionals from our persepctive of contemporary practice standards and, as such, are able to recognize fallacies, out-dated ideas, etc. For the viewing public, however, this might be their first exposure to speech therapy and, as such, not discern those techniques and ideas which are out-dated and those which continue to be accepted in some form. Further, it might serve to perpetuate myths and misconceptions. In my discussion with Jane Fraser she mentioned that The Suttering Foundation was considering dropping the king from their promotional material related to prominent people who stutter…this movie quickly put the kabosh to that.

  9. I took a colleague and my mother to see this film. We all enjoyed it, for different reasons. My mother loved hearing the British accent (she was raised in Hong Kong when it was still a British colony), and my “speechie” friend and I discussed the therapy techniques that Lionel employed in treating the King’s stutter. We all enjoyed the excellent acting and watching the close relationship that developed between the two adult men, which I think was the main plot of the story, and the stuttering was the vehicle in which the friendship was portrayed. It was interesting that, according to the story line in the movie, Lionel had been referred by the head of the local speech therapy society, even though Lionel never professed to be a doctor /credentialed speech professional. In today’s world, I doubt any of us would refer a patient or client to someone who did not possess the education and training for the specific job. Or, if we did, we would make many disclaimers while making the referral. In any case, this was one of the better movies I have attended in quite some time, and I think that those of us in this profession appreciate a movie like this even more than the average person.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. Your observation on the nature of the referral to Logue was something I never considered…I’m glad you brought it up for readers of this entry. As you discussed, though it may have been acceptable practice back then, today it would be unheard of per prevaling standards of professional practice and ASHA’s Code of Ethics. Also…according to the Bowen webpage cited above, Loogue was a founder, despite his lack of credentials, of the British Society of Speech Therapists in 1935 and a founding fellow of the College of Speech Therapists in 1944. Bowen’s webpage provides a wonderful biography of Logue and is definitely worth reading.

  10. I’ve been 95% thrilled with the movie … yes it presents some out of date attitudes & champions an “underdog” uncredentialed therapist … but what I love is Logue’s admirable mixture of savvy behavioral management (wagers, airplane-reward) with direct human-to-human contact. That combo is what lifts our work from science to art, and from problem-fixing to human-healing. I’d put his skills and ethics up against fictional Henry Higgins any day!! (I suspect that if the King could have become independent, he would have — but holding the country together during wartime might have seemed more important. When else has a speech therapist gotten credit for helping to save civilization?!?)

    For those who may have missed it: recent behind-the-scenes TV show explained that just before production started, the film’s researchers made contact with Logue’s grandson who provided them with L’s actual diaries from the time; his methods and some of the exact dialogue came from this historical record.

    • Thank you for your thoughts. For those interested, I’ve provided a link to an interview with Mark Logue, Lionel’s grandson, in the references above. It is also worth noting that Mark Logue has co-authored a book (with Peter Conradi) about his grandather which provides insight and information not explored in the movie.

  11. What I most appreciated about this wonderful film was it’s realistic portrayal of the emotional baggage and continuing challenges that come with a communication disorder

  12. There were comments written by a Speech- Language Pathologist about this movie which I found ludicrous. First of all it took place in 1936. Secondly, the profession of Speech-Language Pathology (ASHA )wasn’t even 50 years old in America or England in 1936. In fact we were known as Speech Correctionists back then. It makes the comment about the ASHA code of ethics and how an American SLP would handle this unnecessary at best. We should be glad that someone made a movie which portrays someone stuttering in a way that brings attention to it in an interesting and for England a patriotic way, at all! It was fun to look at the various ways the amateur actor/faux speech therapist helped Prince Albert. I found some of the techniques exactly the same as modern techniques such as playing a loud sound to prevent the person from hearing themselves while reading; a technique right out of Dr. Daniel Boone’s voice therapy for patients unable to speak loudly. Entertainment never portrays medicine, psychology or any other allied health field as it is supposed to be portrayed. That is because it is entertainment not a dissertation. Take a look at some of the other techniques in the movie and you will find factors that all certified SLPs encounter in providing treatment to persons with dysfluency. Environmental factors, emotions, family situation etc. are all linked to the character’s dysfluent speech. The methodology for 1936 was very inventive and included many techniques that are still being used today. The speech therapist admitted that he was not a speech therapist besides. They stood up to Hitler with that speech and did it whatever way possible- – -Emergency Weird Speech Therapy by someone not an SLP! haha! I loved it!

  13. Movie Review -The King’s Speech
    By Eugene O’Reilly M.A., C.C.C. – SLP
    Speech-Language Pathologist, Accent Specialist and Voice Coach
    Certified by the American Speech Language and Hearing Association
    California Speech-Language Pathology License SP 9363

    The treatment of Dysfluency (current clinical term for “stuttering” or “stammering”) is a branch of Speech-Language Pathology which ranks as one of the more difficult to provide with a low success rate of decreasing or eliminating the condition. The King’s Speech exemplifies the many human variables involved when attempting to remedy Dysfluent Speech. With the idea that this movie is entertainment and that during the period in history portrayed (mid-1930s), the profession of Speech-Language Pathology was less than 20 years old in America, I want to comment on what I consider the significant and interesting events portrayed in this movie.

    We all stutter. This means that everyone is Dysfluent or stutters either from time to time or often; perhaps all the time. It is a matter of degrees and percentages. The Faux Speech Therapist character in the movie who admitted he was actually an actor who had figured out how to help stutterers provided several treatments which I recognized as being related to my professional training on how to treat Dysfluent Speech. I will cite a few examples.

    Dr. Daniel Boone, a well-known Speech Voice Pathologist and author of numerous books on Voice Treatment describes a method for helping people to talk louder. The patient wears headphones and white noise is introduced while they read. The loudness of the white noise increased in order for them to speak louder i.e. hear themselves speaking. The Speech Therapist in the movie used the same method with headphones and loud music and made a recording which Prince Albert took home. It caused him to be fluent without realizing it. This would appear to me to indicate that his condition was more of a personality issue than a neurological condition. He knew the right way to speak and the device allowed him to do so. If they had continued using it the therapist would have eventually lowered the volume while the patient was reading so that they could realize the fluency (uninterrupted voice) of their speech.

    During the 1970s a device called Delayed Auditory Feedback (DAF) was invented to help persons with Dysfluent speech. As the patient spoke into a microphone a slightly delayed production of their speech was presented through the headphones. It was like a very “fast echo”. For a person with fluent speech using the device caused them to stutter. For a stutterer it caused them to be fluent. The scene in the movie in which Prince Albert addressed a crowd at a stadium presented a similar situation to DAF. The slight echo he experienced while speaking into the microphone might have helped him if he wasn’t so overwhelmed with emotion by seeing the people staring at him and waiting for him to talk.

    There is a time during early child development in which all children (about three years old) are somewhat dysfluent because of the demands to learn Speech and Language. During that time, if too much attention is drawn to the speaking ability of the child or difficult/dramatic emotional events occur that are related to speaking Dysfluency may continue, get worse and eventually become stuttering. In the movie, it was very apparent through Prince Albert’s descriptions of his upbringing that a great deal of pressure was put on him to perform in ways in which he wasn’t able. He appeared to be left-handed and was forced to be right-handed. He might’ve been ambidextrous. Handedness has always been a significant factor in stuttering. The many emotional and physical demands put upon him in order to be Royal compounded his Dysfluent speech. He put demands on the speech therapists and others on his life in the same way that demands that were put upon him.

    Stuttering is a learned behavior. Late 20th century and early 21st century studies called “brain mapping” have located specific areas in the brain which appear to be strongly related to Dysfluent speech. The many theories of stuttering which have been presented include the idea that both neurological functions along with environmental and emotional factors determine how severe the stuttering will be. During the interviews by the faux speech therapist, Prince Albert revealed being so severely disciplined that my impression was that the circumstances contributed more to the Dysfluency than whatever neurological malfunctions may have been present. With stuttering being a learned behavior it is a matter of unlearning any related behaviors in order to speak differently especially for adults. All of the tongue twisters, nonsense phrases, body movements while speaking and assorted other physical relaxation and breathing techniques were part of that unlearning process. He had to do all of those odd exercises and ways of speaking in order to override his learned a pattern of speaking. He had to do them enough times so that they replaced the old way.

    What made this movie exciting was the time pressure put upon everyone to help the King produce a live broadcast speech so crucial to the history of England. The culmination of the various therapy methods were all put into play as the faux speech therapist’s face was inches from the King’s and he reminded him of the various unlearning techniques they had practiced.

    Comments regarding this movie made by people in my profession in the great blogosphere, considered the methods used by the main character to be unethical and unworthy of any modern-day Speech-Language Pathologist. I would agree that in a consumer oriented society rife with litigation every professional is advised to be very careful how they deliver services, how successful those services are, how much they charge and whether they truly deserve that money. In regard to this movie, I would say that the oddball, unethical, disorganized and unacceptable delivery of services saved the day and perhaps changed history. It also gave me a great deal of hope that people who don’t have an in-depth knowledge of Speech Language Treatment will see that Dysfluent speech has a level of greatness to it and that the way Dysfluent people are treated by others will greatly influence the outcome of their ability to become more fluent. We are all subject to the judgments of others, our own emotions, the influences of environment as well as contending with Dysfluent speech.

  14. Tracy Ticknor Virta says:

    As a child, I stuttered terribly. It was thru the support of my speech-language pathologist (many hours of using DAF and other techniques), my family, and friends that I am so proud to say I have been practicing audiology for the past 20 years! I originally went to Western Michigan University to be a speech-language pathologist but found my true calling as an audiologist.
    I was so touched by the King’s Speech. I believe it puts a real emotion forward as to what the stutterer feels on a daily basis. Colin Ferth did an excellent job in his protrayal of the King. As for Lional Logue not being “accredited”, he never said he was; and for that, I hold him in high regard. I would say he is actually a father in the field of speech-language therapy.

  15. joyce kaffel says:

    It has been interesting to read all the comments here about The King’s Speech. I am in the minority of people who were not enamored by it. The good thing about the film is that it provides the general public with an exposure to stuttering and to the importance of therapeutic intervention. What irks me is that too many people see the film almost as a documentary, rather than, as another commentor stated, a MOVIE with the obligation to be entertaining!
    If we all could rewrite the script, perhaps we would correct the practices we don’t feel are appropriate. But we’re not the writers nor are we the directors. Stuttering was not the only focus of the film. It dealt with a king having a professional relationship with a commoner, and an eventual friendship with him, as well as the affair between Wallis Simpson and Prince Edward.
    And so, I find it puzzling to have speech and language pathologists ( I am one) dissecting this film as an accurate representation of speech therapy. This is not to say that human relationships were not portrayed elegantly..I’ll give the film that much credit, but we have better things to do look at this as a standard for “the best stuttering film ever.” In my opinion, this was a feel good film. The king got to make his speech. Everybody was happy. What could be bad?

  16. Ann Roberts says:

    As a member of ASHA and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists(UK), now practicing in USA, I was delighted with the film. I have read the book, by Logue’s grandson, which catalogues the many meetings of the King together with the King’s increased confidence in his own abilities. This was the birth of the profession, and as any pioneering clinician, Logue used his experiences of working with those injured in the first world war, and life experiences, to formulate a plan of therapy.

    It’s easy for us, in the researched based modern era, to stand in judgement of a brave instigator in the profession.

    The film is the first I can recall, to enter into the human difficulties experienced by stutterers.
    It has raised the profile of speech impairment, and brought it into discussion.

    An excellent film on all levels.

  17. Hi,

    I realise I am a bit behind and this article was written a long time ago! I just wondered if anyone thought the film helped to promote SLP/SLT as a more gender neutral profession as currently over 95% of therapists are female? Also, does the film reinforce to the public that speech therapists just treat people that stutter or ‘want to talk properly’ neglecting the other areas of work?

  18. barbara Froman says:

    I am *very* late with this discussion, but only because it was only this summer that I have the priveledge to meet a UK trained SLP….who knew some of the people involved in speech therapy at that time depicted in the movie, including in her words “That man Logue”….!
    She was a fascinating lady, and I should have loved to spent more time listening to her as she also helped with early SLP work in my home province. She didn’t hate the film, and provided an interesting historical persepective. Logue did indeed promise cures, at that time, no-one saw anything nothing wrong with such promises…I thought the movie was an interesting portrayal of a time when our profession was still “finding our feet”.

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