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The King’s Speech

I recently watched this film again- The king’s Speech-and was, as before, very moved by it. i also remember seeing a comment that “It’s nothing to do with speech” which puzzled me. On seeing the film again the comment made sense. Talking is not the King’s problem. We see him reading a story to his children and talking comfortably with his wife. All without any stammer .His problems arise when talking with-or being spoken at- his family. His father and older brother both bully him-using his speech impediment as a a weapon. He finds it impossible to answer them, so oppressed does he feel by them.

Jung commented that there is no illness that is not a failed attempt at a cure. This comes to  mind the more I see patients and the more I teach on Mental Health issues. In the case of George V1 his stammer kept him from telling his birth family what he thought of them-presumably he feared  his own words so” chose” not to be able to speak them. At a conference a speaker was talking about a young woman who he was working with in the context of family therapy. She heard voices and was deemed the mad member of her family. The therapist mused with us about the role of this girl for her family. He invited her to reflect on which voice she wanted to hear. Her reply was to the effect that the voices in her head were far better to listen to than the voices of her family. A good example of an “illness” serving as an attempt at a cure.I have several patients who have come to see me with for help with their anger. When we sit down and begin to talk what so often emerges is that anger is a defence against being vulnerable. “If people fear me, then nobody will try to hurt me.” is the message they give themselves. And this works admirably. Nobody comes near them!

The King’s speech served a similar purpose. If he denied having a voice, nobody could make any demands on him. This is shown brilliantly in the film in the King’s relationship with Lionel Logue, his speech therapist. The King insists on being called “Your Majesty” and wants to refer to Lionel Logue as “Dr.Logue” ( a title he lays no claim to have.) This serves to keep the King from any acknowledgement of need or vulnerability or intimacy. The relationship with his therapist is strictly about his speech-and nothing else. His problem is purely mechanical with no ” meaning” attached to it. The genius of Lionel’s work is his insistence on first name terms and intimacy. He allows the King to become Bertie- thus allowing him access to the ordinary parts of himself  which “His Majesty” wants to deny.

Jung also wrote “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” This is writ large in the film where the King has to face the pain of being human and thereby having to understand the source of his stammer. Coming to consciousness is painful. Remaining unconscious is dangerous! (I often hear people talking about their fear of going into therapy. “I don’t want to know what might be lurking in the bottom of my psyche” is a regular comment. My own response has always been to want to know what might be lurking in my psyche. If i know what is there, I can make some choices about it. Not knowing what is inside me is far more frightening than knowing it. If King George had not chosen to work with his speech impediment, his life would have been much the poorer. As would the life of his country, who needed a strong King to see them through World War Two.)

My final thought was the title of the film “The King’s Speech”. Finding his voice not only enriched the King’s speech. It gave words to all of him. With a voice all the parts of him that had been silenced were released. Which is scary. Because now not only did he have a voice to read bedtime stories, he also had a voice with which to be angry. Or contemptuous. Or needy. Or uncertain. He had a voice with which to be human. An awful responsibiltyImage.

 

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