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The King’s Speech, Movie Review Example

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Movie Review

Director Tom Hooper’s 2010 film, The King’s Speech, tells the story of the path to confident speaking undertaken by England’s King George VI, and one greatly facilitated by speech therapist Lionel Logue.   The story is presented as a true one; certainly, it was and is public knowledge that the king had a severe stammering problem, which he was gradually able to somewhat control.   It is also evident that the condition was an affliction experienced when the king was a boy.  In the course of the film, Logue persistently seeks to get George to reveal, and consequently overcome, the emotional disturbances he is sure lie at the heart of the problem.

The film is presented through several perspectives, all of which are evident simultaneously.  On one level, there is the perspective of Logue, which is seen as ahead of its time.  He attaches absolutely no stigma to speech impairment, and has made it his life’s work to help others overcome it.  The character does not deny the powerful bias and problems associated with speech disability; he clearly knows that speech is inherently an extremely personal mode of expression, and that this quality begins to be known to children at a very young age.  It is documented that, even by age three, children begin to understand the differences between public and private speaking (Lansdown, Walker,  1999,  p. 405).   Logue’s perspective  is that he does not wish to waste time on addressing cultural stigmas he knows to be irrational and misplaced.  Conversely, the audience is made to fully share in George’s difficulties.   These are, of course, greatly heightened by his public role; as King, he must speak to and inspire all of England.   His perspective is that of a victim, trapped by an embarrassing impairment and forced to reveal it to the world, and this seems to be the perspective of his wife, Elizabeth.  She sympathizes, but she is as biased about the disability as George himself is.

These contrasting perspectives go to something of an argument about the “normal”.   It is only relatively recently that research has investigated how dramatically any communication impairment affects those handicapped.   A 1997 study established that the subjects fully believed their impairments had drastically harmed their lives in social arenas, as well as in all forms of human interaction.  Most commonly expressed was that anger and alienation were felt, and typically kept inside (Mason, 2001,  p. 98).  This is blatantly revealed in the character of George; he views himself as abnormal, and Logue has great difficulty in breaking through this perception.

It may be the film’s intent to show that even Logue is a product of his times. If he personally and professionally believes that the stammering is no abnormality, he must also accept that this is the societal view. At no point, in fact, is it ever suggested in the film that the stammering is not an issue, or that it is merely a difference, for even Logue sees the need to correct the problem.

The language of the movie reveals the cultural beliefs and prejudices at play. Certainly, George’s rank makes him safe from ordinary teasing, but even he is not free from abuse generated by ignorance and bias.  In one scene, his brother, the future Duke of Windsor, literally mocks him to his face by imitating the stutter.  This kind of cruelty, then, adds to George’s hated view of the impairment. While Logue only refers to it as a stammer or problem, for George it is a “weakness”, or a “bloody thing’. Victimized by it, he gives it monstrous proportions. Actions taken by Logue then go to exercises designed to both ease the physical components of the stammer, chiefly because George is unwilling to seek emotional reasons for it.  Logue knows that these emotional factors are behind the stammer.  Some form of emotional counseling is almost always recommended for older children or adults with speech problems (Bale, Bonkowsky, Filloux, Hedlund, & Larsen, 2011,  p. 109).  Nonetheless, he must be careful not to exacerbate the problem by probing too deeply and generating mistrust.

It seems that the cultural beliefs fueling the King’s rage, and subsequent inability to seriously examine the root of his problem, are those he himself manifests.  To King and country, a speech defect is a weakness, or a flaw that can be overcome by discipline.   Early in the film, George’s father displays this prevalent cultural view when he commands his son to simply try harder.  In a sense, the only cultural tool being employed is that of cognition, and not in a positive way; the people apply thinking to what seems to them a physical problem with no physical cause, and conclude that it is a kind of laziness, or evidence of poor character.  In this case, cultural tools, much like cultural bias, are self-perpetuating; they are generally in place to ease social interactions (Rogoff, 2003,  p. 281), so the misguided way of thinking becomes widespread.  It is certainly so as related to the cultural reaction to George’s impairment.

As this film amply demonstrates, disability, in virtually any form, is a social construction because the definition is inherently relative (Barton, 1989,  p. 7). Impairments can only be known as such when a consensus of opinion defines them in this way, particularly in the case of a stammer, which does not hamper vital functioning. A great difficulty in exploring the dimensions of disability as a social construct lies in the inescapable fact the the very relativity behind its definition roots it firmly to the culture, and in a way so ingrained as to be unrecognizable as a distinct element (Oliver, 1990,  p. 80). Moreover, it is difficult to address bias as generated by social construction because the bias is very often sympathetic.  For example, George is pitied in the movie, but never condemned or ostracized. This component of sympathy makes the bias itself acceptable in the construct, because it is felt that no harm is meant.

The only way in which the social constructions surrounding impairment, particularly in cases like the story of The King’s Speech, may be changed is by a more universal awareness of the limitations of social construction itself.  Individuals must be willing to take the responsibility to go beyond accepted definitions or interpretations, and acknowledge the relativity of them. It is almost an automatic response in a culture, to attach a pitying component to the stigma of a disability, but this worsens the situation. It adds additional relativity, and brings the perspective/construction more deeply into the cultural consciousness.  Only applying the tool of cognitive reasoning, and in a manner far more in depth than usual, can break down longstanding and biased social constructions.

References

Bale, J. F., Bonkowsky,  J., Filloux, F., Hedlund, G.,  & Larsen, P. D.  (2011).  Paediatric Clinical Neurology.  London, UK: Manson Publishing.

Barton, L. (1989).  Disability and Dependency. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Lansdown, R., & Walker, M.  (1999).  Your Child’s Development: From Birth to Adolescence. London, UK: Frances Lincoln Ltd.

Mason, T.  (2001).  Stigma and Social Exclusion in Healthcare.  New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Oliver, M. (1990).  The Politics of Disablement.  London, UK: The Macmillan Press.

Rogoff, B.  (2003).  The Cultural Nature of Human Development.  New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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