Of all the movies nominated for a "Best Picture" Academy Award, "The King's Speech" had the greatest novelty appeal for me --- I knew nothing of King George VI's stammer or about Lionel Logue, the man who helped him lose it.
So I went looking to read more about this remarkable relationship.
I found "The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy," written by the grandson of the king's speech therapist. (To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle version, click here.)
For those who haven't seen the film, the story is simple. The Duke of York, second in line to the English throne, has a horrifying stammer; when he's forced to speak in public, the pauses and false starts are torture for him and his audiences. When his brother abdicates to marry an American divorcée, he becomes king --- and is forced to speak. Worse, with war coming, he needs to be, along with Winston Churchill, the voice of England. Fortunately, he has consulted Lionel Logue, an eccentric Australian speech therapist....
This relationship is a love story. About two heterosexual men. It's about trust and courage and, above all, the will to work hard to be better --- it's one artfully delivered life lesson after another. In the movie, events have been compressed, personalities simplified. A 225-page book can tell a richer story.
In this case, the screenplay came first. Knowing the film would generate interest, Mark Logue took his grandfather's papers, found more, and produced a fascinating account of a man who had great impact but only modest recognition. It's a quick, satisfying read, full of interesting information and character revelation.
Like: the elocution movement. Starting in England in the late 1700s and moving on to the colonies and the United States, public speaking was a discipline, a spectacle and a sport. In Australia, young Lionel Logue was like a second tier rock star. And so, at 23, he set up a business as an elocution teacher.
In 1924, Logue, his wife and their three children traveled to London. This was to be a vacation. It became a new life. Logue had some money, but not enough to keep his family going. And he knew only one person in London. Yet, with astonishing self-confidence, he rented an office on Harley Street --- home to all the chic doctors --- and began trolling for business.
At that time, the cures for speech troubles ranged from cutting off bits of the tongue to training the patient to breathe differently. Logue believed the cure was a combination of physical and psychological work. The Duke of York --- like Logue, we'll take the liberty of calling him "Bertie" --- became a patient in 1926, not in the mid-'30s, when he was about to be king. They met 82 times in the next year. Logue was paid the equivalent of about $15,000.
In the film, there are only a few speeches. In fact, Bertie made many --- and Logue was there to help him. The improvement was vivid. A Time Magazine headline: "C-C-C-Cured."
Logue bought a large house: 25 rooms, with five acres of gardens and a tennis court. His practice grew. So did his friendship with the new King. --- the subject of the last 75 pages of the book.
There was a gift of royal cuff links. And money. But even more, there were letters and visits, all testifying to an unusual friendship between a royal and his subject. And there are lovely flashes of humor ---in a speech, the King fluffs a word. On purpose, he tells Logue: "If I don't make a mistake, people might not know it's me."
A great book? No. But a compelling one, combining history, monarchy, social commentary and medicine. And a moving one. "The bravest man I ever met," Logue tells the King. He spoke straight.
[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]
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