Those of you who know me, know I love going to the movies. If you'd been watching my twitter feed last week, you'll have seen me 'camping out' (well, sitting on a wall really) waiting for my local cinema to open to get in to see The King's Speech. The night before Colin Firth had won a Golden Globe and as it's strongly tipped to do a lot at the BAFTAs and possibly something at the Oscars, I wanted to see it.
It looked a sturdy British historical piece, I hadn't really thought much about it's content.
It's a bit of history I don't think I knew about. Yes, you do all about George VI and the Queen Mum in history lessons, about how they stayed in London to be with their people, visiting streets destroyed during the Blitz...but when you're learning about World War II, Hitler, Churchill, Mussolini, Stalin and Roosevelt get a lot more focus. You forget, or aren't told about how massively important the Royals were at that time in leading their nations around the world.
I've heard recordings of George VI's speeches and although I remembered them as very stilting and that he had pronounced rhotacism (the trouble with his r's like Jonathan Ross or Frank Muir), I don't think it really struck me that he had a stammer.
The film is a classic. There are some outstanding performances by Helena Bonham-Carter, Michael Gambon, Claire Bloom and Derek Jacobi. I was seriously impressed by Guy Pearce as Edward VIII and Timothy Spall as Churchill, both of whom surprised me with their portrayals (and accents).
I cannot imagine the complexity of trying to put on a stammer as well as Colin Firth did to make it so incredibly believable. The fact that he can change it from the almost totally debilitating when the emotional stress ties him up in knots, to the slight occasional one when was comfortable with people etc. It is amazing acting and I found myself forgetting that he doesn't always speak this way and being blinded by the brilliance of Geoffrey Rush on the screen. And wow, Geoffrey Rush is brilliant. I can't put into words how good he is - you need to go and see the movie.
I know I'm biased. I've had and have problems with my speech and had to have speech therapy and vocal training to try and overcome my difficulties.
My problems are mainly linked to my lack of confidence.... we think. Because I often lack the confidence that anyone would want to hear what I say and have crippling social anxiety, most of the time I have an annoying habit of taking very shallow intakes of breath and not having sufficient breath to get me to the end of a sentence...so I'll trail off into a mumble virtually everytime I say something out loud. This made things hard in the UK, but here in Arizona it's terrible because they have such difficulty understanding my accent at the best of times.
None of this was ideal when I trained to be and worked as a broadcast journalist... and even worse when reading the news on the radio.
So I've been there, humming my words, doing numerous breathing exercises, projecting my voice out of open windows, across carparks whilst a vocal coach bear hugged all the air out of my diaphragm, lying on tables trying to lift bricks on my waist just by breathing in. I've done the tongue twisters (I do a mean Betty Botter bought some butter...and Plum buns, bun plums, buns without plums... but anything with a 's' or 'th' in it takes me ages of warming up and practice to get right), visualisations, exercises to loosen my vocal chords, my jaw, my tight shoulders...
I've also been there in a radio studio, watching the countdown on the clock, desperately rehearsing in my mind the tongue twister names of international tennis stars or doctors at the local hospital, cursing (again in my head - you NEVER swear in a studio even off-air) journos you thought were friends for shoving copy with the world's longest sentences into your hand only seconds before you're on air so you can't mark the script for pauses etc.
I know the crippling anxiety of standing looking at that microphone...sometimes alone in a darkened studio (but knowing your tutors, peers and an audience at home will be able to hear every stutter, stumble and fluff), sometimes seeing a whole room full of people who are actually good at this stuff looking at you through the studio window.
I know the fear, the sleepless nights, the times when my speech actually got worse because of the nerves inspite of all the training I'd received.
But I could walk away. I didn't have to become a broadcast journalist. There were plenty of other jobs I could do that didn't involve speaking outloud.
George VI didn't have this luxury of being able to walk away. His country needed him entering a period of great fear and turmoil. Wow, he was brave. I'd be hiding away utterly terrified in a cupboard not coming out to speak to anyone (yep, this is from personal experience).
I have to admit I did sit blubbing through most of the movie - I felt so much for him, I know how intensely painful my incredibly minor speech problems are, I cannot accurately imagine what he must have felt like tongue-tied in front of his disapproving father, rooms of dignitaries, stadiums full of his subjects.
But the tears were interspersed with an incredible amount of laughter and smiles too - the relationship that develops between George VI and Lionel Logue is lovely...I've heard Colin Firth since say the film as a bit of a buddy movie, and even though that sounds silly, it's true. He was a man so protected and isolated from the real world that he was pretty much alone and friendless. Logue appears to have changed that and I had to wonder whether the process enabled George VI and Queen Elizabeth to be one with their people during the Blitz.
So.... anyway...go and see the film.
Go and see the bravery of George VI, the unflinching love and support and down-to-earthness of his wife, Queen Elizabeth. Go see the genius and humanity of Lionel Logue, who went on to found the British Society of Speech Therapists. Go and see the gorgeous wallpaper in the staterooms and palaces ...and Queen Elizabeth's seriously fantastic hats (sorry, you know how I get distracted by pretty things).
I know I'm a tad biased, but it's blooming brilliant ;)