Make Room For The Stuttering

Reflections On The King’s Speech

Posted on: January 1, 2011

I went alone to see the movie The Kings Speech, wanting to experience it by myself. I had read reviews about the movie, and knew the story, but felt I needed to feel my feelings without worrying about how someone sitting next to me might react if I got emotional.

I sat in the back, eager to see this movie everyone in the stuttering community has been talking about. I sipped hot tea and had extra napkins for when tears might fall.

I did not expect the strong emotional reaction I had. From the opening scene, my heart pounded and my eyes welled up. When Colin Firth (playing the prince who would be king) stepped up to the microphone to speak publicly, I recognized the look on his face. The actor captured it perfectly – the panic, fear, shame and embarrassment, all etched on his face before he even opened his mouth.

And when he did open his mouth, nothing came out at first. Then, a faltering, struggled syllable, which seemed to reverberate through the stadium, and then, silence. The silences were deafening and as the camera panned the faces in the crowd, I saw pained looks, averted eyes, and then the look of shame on the soon-to-be-king’s face intensified.

This movie brilliantly portrays what it “feels like” to stutter. It shows that stuttering  is so much more than what does (or doesn’t) come out of our mouths. It is those feelings that we almost never talk about that the movie poignantly illustrates.

I was transfixed right away. I won’t mention specific lines and scenes, because if you are reading this and haven’t seen the movie yet, I don’t want to be a spoiler. But I will share what I felt, physically and emotionally, as I watched.

My heart was pounding and my eyes overflowed several times. I wiped tears away that streamed down my face, unabashedly. Why was I so moved? Because the portrayal of stuttering, and the reactions of those around this man who stuttered, stirred so many of my own memories and emotions. I was reminded of what I felt as a helpless child, a child who felt like I had disappointed my parents. I was reminded of how defective I felt and how I tried for so long to hide my stuttering.

I had a knot in my stomach, as I recognized how much people who stutter have in common, irregardless of whether we are royalty or common. The people close to the King reacted to his stuttering, making me appreciate that audience members were seeing that stuttering doesn’t just affect the person who stutters, but also includes siblings, parents and spouses.

I laughed at the parts that were funny. I cheered when he put his fears aside and spoke anyway. I empathized when he broke down privately with his wife and shared feelings of failure and inadequacy, which is hard to put into words. I have felt those feelings too.

Truthfully, I was deeply moved by the whole film. It was told with grace, dignity, and was funny at times, just like life. The stuttering was not demeaning or comic. It was done in such a way that you couldn’t help but “feel something” as you watched.

People in the audience applauded at the end. I so wanted to know WHY? What did they think? Why were they moved? They don’t stutter. What did it mean to them?

I hope to find out. My friend Steve (who is a SLP and stutters) and I are going to do a workshop next month at our community library. We are calling it “An Un-Royal Talk About Stuttering”. We will provide resources on self-help, support, and therapy. Hopefully, we will also dispel some myths and help people feel comfortable talking about stuttering.

It is up to us, people who stutter, to raise awareness and educate others. We can’t just stand by, assuming that someone else is speaking up. Because they might be too afraid or embarassed. This movie may remove some of the stigma and silence.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, GO. You will be moved, I guarantee it.

This article I wrote was published  in today’s print edition of the Albany, NY Times Union  1/1/2011 .

12 Responses to "Reflections On The King’s Speech"

Wow. Great article, Pam. In the UK (actually in Milton Keynes) it’s getting released on January 6th. I can’t wait to watch the movie.

When I went to see it there went that many people, probably because of the snow. The same thing happened where the people clapped at the end. I too wondered why?

Hey Pam,

It’s great to hear your reactions to the movie. For me, though, honestly, I was a little disappointed. Perhaps this is because I have been reading such rave reviews on stuttering forums and on stutterers’ facebook messages for weeks now that I expected more.

I do have to allow for 2 things that made my viewing experience less than pleasant–when Colin Firth blocks on “I never carry money”, an older gentleman next to me audibly finished “carry money” for him. The anger I felt (and still feel at this) must be quite irrational, but I honestly felt like backhanding him across the face at the time. It didn’t ruin the experience for me, of course, but it was rather jarring, and happened relatively early in the movie. The other thing that happened was there was this woman in the row in front of me, to the right, who kept opening her smart phone and texting people, emitting a distracting glow every 15 minutes. The people immediately around her didn’t do anything, and if I had been in a calmer mood, I would have definitely tapped her on the shoulder, but for some reason, I didn’t feel like making a scene–I was already in a precarious emotional state that day, worsened by the old man, and I felt like if the woman reacted negatively to me, I might have snapped.

The other thing that sort of rubbed me the wrong way during the past couple of weeks was people all but ignoring the existence of Rocket Science or even speaking disparagingly of it, always in comparison to The King’s Speech. I personally really enjoyed Rocket Science and bawled at the end of it. It was really emotional for me, probably because it was the first movie I saw that portrayed stuttering (I did watch A Fish Called Wanda later, which was definitely not kind toward stutterers).

Now on to The King’s Speech… I did well up at the opening scene, especially when they panned to the disappointed and confused faces in the audience–for me, that always made me feel worse about myself than my actual stuttering behavior.

After that, I was really looking forward to see stuttering portrayed in its full “glory”, I suppose, and I felt that did not happen. There were no facial contortions, and the blocks always happened for about the same length of time, and were quite a lot shorter than a lot of the blocks that real stutterers experience. I have read a few news articles and listened to a few interviews from the director and producer(s) who said that they had to really balance the amount of “dead air” in the movie with keeping the plot and dialogue moving, so they could not drag the blocks out too long, but maybe one or two long blocks in the movie would have been okay and really give the audience a taste of how uncomfortable it could actually get.

Beyond that, I did indeed like the relationship between the therapist and the king–it made me feel a little uncomfortable sometimes how the therapist infantilized him a little, but that might have been necessary, in the Freudian sense they were clearly trying to evoke, to bring him back to that state of childhood and re-immerse himself in those traumatic experiences and try to view himself and feel differently about himself in the present.

Overall, I do think it’s a great movie to raise awareness, but at the theater I went to, it was overwhelmingly elderly people who were probably more interested in the historical aspect of it than the stuttering aspect. There was at least one person (mentioned above) who was bored enough to be texting nearly the entire time, and I did feel the pace was quite slow at times–if I was a fluent person who had absolutely no connection to stuttering, I’m not sure if I would have wanted to sit through it, unfortunately.

I feel Rocket Science was different in the way that it had a coming-of-age story that I could relate to as well as the stuttering story, and it was the self-acceptance at the end that I really was drawn to. In The King’s Speech, success is definitely defined by having minimal stuttering, and having to use a lot of tips and tricks to achieve that success.

Perhaps this just tells me that for movies that potentially mean a lot to me, I should wait for it to come out on DVD and then watch it by myself.

Hi Cheryl,
Thanks for such an honest and thoughtful reply. I really liked Rocket Science too, and another one I would recommend to you about a young person, coming of age while stuttering, War Eagle Arkansas.
I think I reacted to The Kings Speech the way I did due to the fact that the King is closer in age to me, and his childhood memories were very like mine, that still haunt me to some degree. I was moved by the pain and humuliation he felt when looking out at the confused and disappointed faces, as you mention. That has always resonated with me, thinking I am/was burdening my listener or letting someone down.
Regardless of all our different opinions, this movie is creating discusion among people like no other stuttering movie has, and for that I am grateful.
I want to see it again with a family member, now that I have seen it alone once. Sadly, I think only one of my 5 siblings would be interested. It still is a very uncomfortable topic with my family.

Dear Pam,
I was emailed this article by my sister Marni Gillard of Schenectady. I saw the movie yesterday and everyone applauded in the movie theater I was in as well. I applauded because of his victory over fear, his willingness to try, Lionel’s brilliant character as teacher and therapist, not to mention friends. I applauded because “Bertie” finally accepted himself because he had made a friend and because of the deep love that was shown with his immediate family. I applauded for the sense of community in a society that could actually sit without moving while silence hovered over the airwaves, a nation waiting for their beloved King to speak. I also applauded because it showed a path of learning that is so RIGHT ON. It was a rich and powerful movie. I am a voice teacher (Singing) and I too welled up inside because I watch singers, young and old, struggle to get a sound out and I myself have struggled with speaking in front of a crowd (even though I am very comfortable singing on stage) I appreciate your article so very much, your honesty and courage. I mostly wanted to let you know why I applauded. Bravo for you!
Sincerely, Maria Gillard

Maria – thank you so much for sharing this with me. This meant a lot, that you went, enjoyed it, was moved and told me why. You sound like a wonderful person, just like Marnie, who I only met recently. She is a very special person, as you already know. Please read a previoius post I wrote called On Being Heard. I didn’t use Marnie’s name, but it was about her and the gift of listening she gave to me that day.
Thank you again – I have always thought there was somethng wrong with me and now, in my 40s, I am realizing that is so very NOT true.

‎”It is up to us, people who stutter, to raise awareness and educate others.” See, I always wonder about this. People may say: “Why are you making an issue out of yourselves? There are many people with different problems and stuttering is n……ot any less or more important.” Does anyone know what I mean? It’s difficult for me to draw the line between how much raising awareness is good and productive, and when it may become annoying to people who don’t stutter.
And I can’t wait to see the movie either! This article made me even more eager 🙂

I know what you mean – fluent people who don’t “get it” may indeed get annoyed or feel we are making such a big deal out of something that doesn’t pale in comparision to cancer, HIV, etc. But in a world where educational and employment disc…rimination still exists because the mainstream doesn’t understand stuttering, I believe it is our responsibility, as no one else is, or can, do it for us.

Involuntary stoppage of speech or involuntary repititions in a world that SO takes communication for granted is tough for the millions of us who stutter, especially children, who may not know how to stand up for themselves.

I feel so strongly because I was fired from a job becasue a boss that I was an ineffective communicator and poor role model, that after being in same company for 20+ years. That was my wake-up call. If that can still happen today, people have to be educated. It’s discrimination and most people don’t even realize it.

I know so many people who stutter, more pronouncedly than I, who just can’t get jobs. Employers won’t take a chance on them, or are afraid of their image being tarnshed. (I do think that was partly the case with the boss who fired me, as well as he was just a jerk!) How can we change that situation? Fluent people just don’t have the same insight, as to what it “feels like” , so it has to be us. Just my humble insight . . . . 🙂

I agree with every word that you say, and let me tell you, that in more ways than one, we think alike in this matter – so you can read my thoughts and get answers to your questions simply by asking yourself and the same will me my answers too

I can simply use a technical term to suffice and to summarize, by saying- ‘Destigmatization of Psychiatric and Psychological issues/illnesses has long been felt as the need of the hour’

Or I can share my thoughts more openly –

I believe ‘Expert syndrome’ is the most common illness that infects ‘experts’ but harms ‘patients’

‘Something should be endured and not be overcome’ is some doctors code for saying – we dont know much about this, and we dont know what to tell you, but we’re the experts, so if we’re not doing something, we suggest you too should do nothing
More examples can be found in medicine and Psychiatry and in every specialty, including yours

And maybe its good? Or it could be Bad?
Its what WE do with this that makes it good or bad

Bad because when all doors close on the outside, then a person may lose hope or may die banging his head to these closed doors

Good because when all doors close on the outside, only then does the door on the Inside open, and then what happens is what you have experienced

I agree that society is oblivious and insensitive and that includes us- I think its because we know we all have our weaknesses. People have laughed at our weaknesses, so in turn we come back with Vengeance when we can label someone ‘lesser’ than us and we try our best to ridicule or laugh
Its like ragging

1. Awareness – like this movie or ‘Taare Zameen Par’ spread
In my personal and professional capacity I keep working on this

2. To be sensitive towards all, so they may learn to respond with sensitivity and sensibility

3. To realize that ultimately we’re human and we will be imperfect , and we can choose to accept imperfection in others

4. To inculcate ‘human’ values so we may behave more ‘humane’
Maybe more? – U suggest

I keep working on all these 4 points every moment – and i manage to inculcate this into most of my patients and students

I havent undertaken any formal/public Activity of this nature – shall do so in time – and the time seems to have come

Shall see this movie and Prescribe it to many

I went to see the movie tonight with my mother and sister, something I never, ever thought would be possible. To be viewing on a big screen the things I have felt for so many years, with family sitting next to me was just tremendously moving.
The theater was packed, and I was as emotional seeing if for the third time as I was the first.
Again, at the end of the film, the audience applauded. I am moved that so many people are moved by this story of a journey about struggle and fear.

I checked out your blog, thanks to the credits at the end of your review of the film in our local Sunday paper. I’ve been watching for the film to come to our area. As a fellow stutterer, I’ll be subscribing to your blog.

Terrific! And if you are local, please come to the workshop we are doing at the Colonie Library. It would be great to meet you and hear your thoughts on the movie. We want to have this community talk so we who stutter can be surew that others who watch the movie (which is brilliant!) don’t come away with the wrong impression, like if we just slowed down or concentreated on our words, we wouldn’t stutter. You know, right . . . . Thanks for checking out the blog and the comments!

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