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Some Ramblings - The King's Speech (2010)
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
the kings speech

Medical reasons aside, stammer feeds on anxiety. The physical inability to provide a clutter free passage to the flow of expression causes the words to back up the queue, only to be released one jerky word at a time accompanied with grunts and other guttural sounds, making the very act of talking quite a traumatic experience for the speaker earning uncomfortable and misplaced empathy from the listeners. Medicine equates stammering to drowning as it relates to constricting the throat muscles instinctively. It says a person dies in the act of drowning more due to the asphyxiation caused by the reflexive contraction of the wind pipe when water tries to enter the area, than by the water ultimately reaching the lungs and tripping up the process of respiration. The correlation between stammering and drowning is remarkable as to how closely letting the air through in a regulated fashion can mean the difference between life and death, coherence and confusion. The start of the conversation by a person with stammer feels like the roll of a small snowball down an icy slope, which quickly builds up in strength and momentum consuming everything within its path, before it comes crashing down full force, often reducing the delivery to failed starts and rapid stutters. And the sad part of it all is the person with the handicap becomes more and more self-conscious with each passing word causing his pipes to clam up faster as he desperately tries to get the words out of his system. Relaxation, they say, is the best cure to stammer, which is like saying, that a pessimist would lead a productive life with a cheerful outlook on the same. The cure for stammer is set in the same place as its cause - anxiety.

'The King's Speech' is an uplifting portrait of a stammerer who is confronted with even more challenging issues than his speech impediment and yet comes out fighting through them all, one arduous step at a time. If stammer itself isn't enough to stigmatize a normal person (of the working class), imagine how it is for a persona born into royalty, who is expected to interact with people, delivering speeches extemporaneously, and deal with his demons on a daily basis all involving sparring with words. And the problem is even more compounded for a descendant of British monarchy, who are supposed to always have dry wit readily available on the tips of their tongues. And to further pile on, what if the person suddenly finds himself in direct line to the throne of the Empire, while Hitler's forces are planning to steamroll through Europe at just the same time. Prince Albert (who later became George VI, and is the father of the current queen Elizabeth II), the protagonist, could not have picked a worse moment to rid himself of the nagging stammer. Where the traditional methods, speaking with marbles in the mouth a la Demosthenes, relaxation of the throat muscles by smoking, fail him, the same pressure and anxiety that caused his stammer in the first place, eventually come to his rescue. The abdication/renunciation of the crown by his elder brother for the want of marrying a twice divorced woman, plucks Albert out of relative royal (and comfortable) obscurity and thrusts him on to the center stage, forcing him to face his nightmare, public speaking, head on. The movie, based on such an interesting (his)story, of struggle and success, even for one born with a silver spoon in his mouth, relies primarily on the great acting skills of Colin Firth, as the King in question, who strains and contorts every one of his facial, neck and throat muscles for depicting the plight of the exasperated prince. Caught between the strict traditions that can stifle even a strong person with fully functioning faculties, and the huge expectations of the whole country waiting to see its king assure it in times of duress and distress, 'The King's Speech' manages to make the best of the worst situations meted out to it, and emerges as a triumphant voice of struggle, will and perseverance (and not hope and optimism, as is usual for uplifting stories). Ultimately, the stammerer might not have found a permanent cure to his problem, but he surely found a way for/with his words.

Tailpiece: In an inspired casting choice, Geoffrey Rush, who portrayed the gifted pianist David Helfgott (in the movie 'Shine' more than a decade ago), a battered genius who overcame a lot of personal and professional trauma before finally garnering the attention and adulation he truly deserved, this time around portrays the part of the healer - Lionel Logue - whose innovative methods help the King arrive at the august stage in style, thus coming a full circle.

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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