Loving someone hurts when we can’t slay their monsters. The King’s Speech is about coming through the worst of it alone.
BY MICHELLE MORRA-CARLISLE -- Movies want audiences to sympathize for their characters, and I usually oblige. My heart sank right along with Leonardo DiCaprio in the Titanic. I ached for Jamie Foxx as his character battled schizophrenia and homelessness in The Soloist. I even mustered some emotion for Angelina Jolie as she screeched about her stolen son in The Changeling. Pretty heavy subject matter compared to public speaking – yet I have never felt such agony for a character as I did for Colin Firth in The King’s Speech.
The actor reportedly had a similar response when he watched a newsreel of the real King George VI stammering through a speech. Though the King did a good job of making his stutters sound like dramatic pauses, his obvious struggle brought tears to the eyes of Firth and director Tom Hooper.
This isn’t a story about someone being mocked for his impediment. The King had support. The British masses in stadiums and in their livingrooms sat with bated breath, respectfully rooting for the King. Yet all of their collective good will and that of his loving wife and daughters could not help His Majesty get those words out smoothly and painlessly. For me, it’s a story of not only the King but those who loved him.
We walk alone
Nothing feels quite as helpless as watching someone go through their own personal hell. Those of us who know stutterers hold our tongues while they take several seconds to get a word out, and must resist blurting it out for them. We can’t cure someone else’s speech impediment any more than we can stop a family member from drinking or drugging herself to death. When the mentally ill battle voices and hallucinations we ourselves can’t hear or see, they feel isolated no matter how sincerely we care. We can go mad trying to cheer up a depressed friend who cocoons in bed for days on end, unable to face the ‘darkness’ even when it’s sunny out. And no matter how much we love thunderstorms, we can’t convince our children or pets to relax as they tremble in fear because their sky is exploding.
The sufferer, too, feels helpless. During hard times I’ve had nights of terrible fear, worry or sadness, when I felt alone even though my husband was lying next to me. Many times I snuggled up, watched him sleep peacefully and longed to crawl into his happy, oblivious head.
But we struggle alone. My late grandmother (who wasn’t fond of human frailty) used to say in her most ominous voice: “Laugh and the whole world laughs with you. Cry, and you cry alone.”
Mind you, that old saying is a bit harsh. Alone doesn’t mean lonely. Even though we can’t fight other people’s private battles, we can cheer them on. King George VI’s wife (whom we know as the Queen Mother) didn’t try to cut out his stammer with a surgical knife. She loved him as he was and encouraged him as he overcame that embarrassing hurdle with the help of speech therapist Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush). The Queen was always there for him, at a lovingly detached distance. So were his daughters, Margaret and the future Queen Elizabeth. According to the eulogy Winston Churchill delivered when the King died, he was “greatly loved by all his peoples.”
As second-born son, he was never supposed to be King, so his role as second fiddle, side-kick, shy, stammering younger brother in the shadows suited him fine until King Edward VIII, gave up the throne to marry his twice-divorced American fiancée. Suddenly the young prince’s private hell would go public. And no more hiding in the shadows – he was suddenly King, the most public figure in the British Empire. Never mind the speech impediment , he had to lead a country in time of war.
What didn’t kill him made him stronger. “The last few months of King George’s life,” Churchill wrote, “with all the pain and physical stresses that he endured -- his life hanging by a thread from day to day, and he all the time cheerful and undaunted, stricken in body but quite undisturbed and even unaffected in spirit…”
King George’s life was a victory and that, too, was his alone.
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