The Root Cause of "The King’s Speech" Impediment

Column by B.R. Merrick. 

Exclusive to STR 

When the Great War came, all our soldiers were returning to Australia from the front, a lot of them shell-shocked, unable to speak. Somebody said, “Lionel, you’re very good at all this speech stuff. Do you think you could possibly help these poor buggers?” I did muscle therapy, exercises, relaxation, but I knew I had to go deeper. Those poor young blokes had cried out in fear; no one was listening to them. My job was to give them faith in their own voice, and let them know that a friend was listening. ~ Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, in “The King’s Speech
Prior to becoming an anarchist, I had a weakness for certain things about the state. I grew up in a town connected to a major Air Force base, and I will confess to being awed by those muscular fighter jets. They are astounding machines. Those Blue Angels were and are amazing. I was and am also a Sinophile (since “The Last Emperor”) and an Anglophile (since forever). Therefore, I embraced more than one statist film, especially movies about English royalty.
Things are different now, and I’m glad to say that I couldn’t care less about William’s and Kate’s nuptials, which is why there’s no link. (Who are William and Kate, you say? Good for you!) I can only hope that once children are involved, they make something work. (No one else should have to pay for it, though.) So I’m not going to catalogue the statist films with which I indulge myself, except for the one that recently received so much attention. These sorts of films are turning me off now, and I was planning on ignoring this one, but with Netflix being easy to browse through, and awards being handed out, curiosity got the best of me.
I’m happy to report that even though the filmmakers are statist in one sense, and have therefore done anarchists few immediate favors, the creators of “The King’s Speech“ have done anarchist Root Strikers a great service, so much so that I am going out of my way to point out something about the movie that I think deserves to receive notice. The filmmakers may be courtiers, but they behave like the keenest and most daring of court jesters.
I won’t elaborate on the kid gloves with which numerous statists, directly and indirectly responsible for involving millions on that land mass in a horrific war, are treated. That terrible war is merely (and sadly) a backdrop for the war in the king’s mind. Much of what we have come to believe about that time period, and the way the great political actors thought, remains safely in place. Official history isn’t much questioned, and the major players themselves don’t seem to be questioning much, either. This is the central weakness of the film, and perhaps it is insurmountable.
Then again, perhaps not. For those readers who haven’t seen it or who still have no wish to see it, the story is about King George VI, his stuttering problem, and the Australian “commoner” who helped him. As you can imagine, this disability had a profound psychological effect on Albert Frederick Arthur George (Bertie), and some lesser consequence for people who chose to hold some small faith in an essentially death-oriented system. When radio became supreme (as the opening credits clearly show), those who considered themselves above the proles lost their alleged supremacy, and had to come up with something new. As Bertie’s father put it in the movie, “In the past all a king had to do was look respectable in uniform, and not fall off his horse. Now we must invade people’s homes and ingratiate ourselves with them. This family’s been reduced to those lowest, basest of all creatures: We’ve become actors!” The obsequious nature of royalty and hangers-on alike is, at least for a legitimate anarchist’s pleasure (not the posers out there), on display as times change rapidly and relentlessly. Bertie has little control over these events. He has a choice, yes; and now the stuttering would have to be dealt with.
Along comes Lionel Logue: speech therapist. The real Lionel resembles Geoffrey Rush’s masterful portrayal merely in spirit. In reality, Bertie was the first patient that Lionel ever saw in England, and it was his equerry, not his wife, who first contacted Lionel. (We can forgive the filmmakers for that. Wouldn’t you rather be greeted by Helena Bonham-Carter?) Also, in the climactic scene in Westminster Abbey on the eve of the duke’s coronation, there was probably no altercation about credentials, as the real king-to-be apparently awarded Lionel with the Victorian Order, which the real Lionel, rather than making snide remarks and jabs at the establishment, wore with relish during the coronation the next day. Beyond that, the real Lionel never swore in front of Bertie, nor did he ever call him Bertie, as a letter he wrote seems to attest.
However, the real Lionel Logue was indeed a bit of a maverick: He wrote no books, made no formal studies of patients’ individual progress, had no students, and much of what he did exactly remains a bit of a mystery. He also is correctly portrayed as a man with no formal qualifications.
The screenwriter’s views on the matter of Bertie’s stuttering are largely my own. (He also had a stutter apparently.) Logue (the fictional one, anyway) cuts to what he believes is the root cause of why Bertie stutters. He mentions more than once that he believes the root cause is emotional. Bertie insists on physical exercises, but at least one of the exercises does involve psychological aspects: The real and the fictional Lionel both had Bertie stand in front of an open window and yell out each vowel for 15 seconds. No doubt, there are physical benefits from doing so, and there may also be some retraining of parts of the brain that, for whatever root cause, are supposed to aid in clear, flowing speech. However, you also have a man, made to shut up from a very early age about any number of unspeakable horrors, who is now encouraged to speak. How is it possible that this would not have profound psychological consequences for a man who kept his voice to himself for decades?
At one point in the exercises, Bertie is made to repeat “mother... mother... mother” while the camera closes in on his face. The next shot shows him struggling with the word “m-m-m-manufacturing” during a speech in a factory. Interesting that the screenwriter would follow the word “mother” with the word “manufacturing.” When Bertie repeats “father... father... father,” there is no subsequent word beginning with F, even though it would be very easy to use the same “factory” speech, would it not? Another interesting choice. It is clear that the screenwriter feels there is something in the early relationship with the two primary love sources that is amiss, and that this lack may have been coupled with physical ailments that were either innate or exacerbated by, oh, I don’t know... not being fed?
That revelation becomes the most frightening line in the film. Encouraged to list his catalogue of childhood hurts, Bertie sings (since he cannot speak of it), to the tune of “Suwanee River,” concerning the behavior of a nanny who preferred his brother: “The-e-en she wouldn’t feed ME-E-E, fa-a-ar, far away....” This atrocity led to stomach problems, apparently. The stomach is near the diaphragm, which goes up and down to suck air into the lungs, then squeeze it out again. What happens to that area of the body when the stomach is put into such physical distress? What happens when a brain that communicates with the torso compounds the physical suffering with psychological factors?
When I have forced myself to fast for brief periods (both for health and religious reasons), it’s kind of interesting to see what the mind does. You can spend time reminding your brain to stop thinking about food and hunger, and simply focus on the physical pain. Oftentimes, absent any psychological factors, you will find, if you’re simply trying to get through a few hours without food, that the physical pain is actually quite small. I’m sure Bertie’s nanny went over all of this with him when she stopped feeding him.
Yet with all of these possible psychological influences, the film shows the “experts” standing in stark contrast to Logue. He asks Bertie not to smoke in his office:
LIONEL: I believe sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.
BERTIE: My physicians say it relaxes th-t…the throat.
LIONEL: They’re idiots.
BERTIE: They’ve all been knighted.
LIONEL: ...Makes it official, then.
Many modern-day experts say that the mother and the father are not to blame. In one sense, I agree, but mainly due to the word “blame,” which is not exactly synonymous with “cause” or “contributing factor.” Stuttering is primarily a physiological phenomenon within an individual, largely unpredictable, and root causes are bound to differ from one man to the next. But what parents do or don’t do to or for their children is going to have some effect, is it not? Information culled from relationships goes into the brain, which commands the rest of the body, including the unfed stomach, the diaphragm, or the punished left hand, something that the fictional Logue says is common among stutterers. (The real Queen Elizabeth II, according to Steve Sailer, believes the stutter had to do with this last one and not the starvation.)
I believe that parental influence, early experience in the larger world (informed by beliefs that begin in the home) including sanctioned ridicule, a duodenal operation, starvation, splints on the legs as a child, “corrected” left-handedness, and even genetics may all have contributed to Bertie’s dilemma. If so, which one of these things, if altered, would most aid a frail child in overcoming the obstacles that the other influences have thrown down in his path? I believe quite strongly that it is the parental one; but absent that, what about an older brother who takes the younger, frailer one under his wing, and makes of himself a “helping witness,” as Alice Miller would describe him, instead of David, who taunted Bertie and then went on to briefly become King Edward VIII? Nevertheless, experts have written off familial influence entirely. I haven’t, and apparently, neither have the filmmakers.
Even if you took away the screenwriter’s premise of stuttering connected to early childhood experience, this is still a film that at least throws paper wads from the triforium during the celebration of royal privilege. In the climactic scene previously mentioned, Lionel blasphemes the “sacred” nature of the coronation to take place the next day, accusing the Archbishop of Canterbury of “poncing” around Westminster Abbey, belittling what the king-to-be will solemnly proclaim in a few more hours, and plumping his bottom on King Edward’s Chair, upon which only the monarch is supposed to sit, while pointing out to an enraged Bertie: “People have carved their names on it.”
In my mind, and I have watched it several times, this is the actual story; not the statist crap. It is mostly an exercise in “reducing” Bertie to a mere man so that he can learn to be a better one. In the end, the real Bertie fully embraced his favored system of coercion, and dutifully did what elected and appointed “authorities” told him. What his motives were I will never know. Regardless, this movie is a somewhat romanticized, somewhat fictionalized look at a very real problem for a very real (and very hurt) man.
It also, I believe, goes to the heart of why a state is not necessary, and why it’s always a mistake to give power to those who refuse to look at the lies they believe, lies which start oftentimes in childhood. Nicolae Ceauşescu grew up in an abusive and poverty-stricken household filled with so many kids that two of them were named Nicolae. Not only did Nicolae insist on statues of the “superior” brother to be erected all over Romania, but he also ordered the women to get pregnant and increase the population. Adolf Hitler was savagely beaten by his father, his mother standing idly by. The young adult was directionless and emotionally distant. He ultimately embraced a violent ideology that had one of the world’s most convenient scapegoats for all of his personal problems. Rather than investigate root causes of aimlessness, he savagely beat the rest of the world, and the scapegoat worst of all. Then there’s Mikhail Gorbachev, who was loved.1 When the premieres of the Soviet satellite nations gathered to universally denounce the premiere of Hungary, he looked in Gorbachev’s direction just in time to receive a wink.
But we mustn’t blame mommy and daddy for anything. I agree, but what if blaming isn’t the point? What if it’s not about assigning responsibility to the parents for what adults do, but merely a way for adults to learn why they habitually fall into error? What if we simply take a look at cause and effect, at the way children learn and lie, at the way the brain gets hardwired during the first three years? Are the seeds of destruction of the modern state to be found there? I think so, and I think I’ve found a film that thinks so, too.
You know, once I got the hiccups. My sister left the room as I was complaining to my [Hic!] mother about it. She came back in the room with a $50 bill, held it up so I could see it, and said, “I will give you this if you hiccup once more.” Worked like a charm. Dammit.
1The linked article on Gorbachev is in Russian, which I do not speak (as I suspect you don’t). One part of the article translates at Google as follows: “My father knew very well harvester and taught me – says MS Gorbachev.—I could have a year or two to adjust any mechanism. A source of pride - the ear can tell at a glance that something was wrong in the combine.” I think you understand why I conclude that Alice Miller was right: Gorbachev was loved.


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B.R. Merrick's picture
Columns on STR: 35

B.R. Merrick writes for "Strike The Root" and "A Voice for Men," is  proud to be a classical music reviewer at and iTunes, and in spite of the poisonous nature of television, God Himself will have to pry his DVDs of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” out of his cold, dead hands, under threat of eternal damnation.


Paul's picture

Good one, B.R. I too enjoyed the movie. My wife has a fondness for what I suppose could be called the "Masterpiece Theatre" genre, angst among the English ruling class. Heaven knows why. But we did see and enjoy the movie.

I too have little use for the concept of blame. I've been on forums where assigning blame seems to be the primary activity. It seems a little childish to me.

Glen Allport's picture

What a joy to read something where the political AND the psychological commentary seem warm, human, and quite on-the-mark. Great job, B.R. My wife loves the film but I haven't had an interest in seeing it; now I do.

B.R. Merrick's picture

Thanks, Glen (and Paul). The movie really has a lot of other fine points to it. Usually, with these movies, the makers like to showcase all the gorgeousness of royal interiors, the opulence of their lifestyle; not so in this film. It's full of narrow, confining hallways and darkened parlors. Colin Firth meanders through an ornate prison for the duration of the film. When he gives a halted speech accepting his kingship, he looks at one portrait after another of previous monarchs, and you can just feel the superiority vs. inferiority battle raging in his head while he stutters his words. Marvelous.