An heir to the British throne attempts to overcome a lifelong speech impediment so that he can perform his royal duties as leader of his people.
The Story on the Screen
In The King's Speech, the main character, Albert (officially Albert Frederick Arthur George), finds himself confronted with a peculiar problem—that of being a royal whose official duties demand a talent for which he is not at all suited, owing to a personal impediment. As the younger adult son of King George V, reigning British monarch in the early 1900s, Albert is called upon occasionally to speak at public events; however, a stutter that has dogged him from his youth makes it exceptionally difficult for him to do so. And the training that he has received over the years from conventional, credentialed therapists has not helped him overcome his tendency to stutter.
The story chronicles the effort of an important British royal to solve his stuttering problem with the help of an unconventional speech therapist.
When it becomes apparent that the stuttering is hindering Albert from performing his royal duties, and will only become more deeply problematic as he takes on greater responsibilities, his wife, Elizabeth, seeks help from an unconventional London speech therapist, Lionel Logue, whose methods are derived more from personal experience working with shell-shocked World War I veterans in his native Australia than they are from formal education. And the story chronicles the joint effort of Lionel and Albert to solve the stuttering problem.
Lionel's attempts to cure Albert run the gamut from recording Albert reading Shakespeare aloud while listening through headphones to orchestral music... to having Albert sing and shout swear words... to provoking Albert to share intimate details about his youth and feelings about his life, family, and major concerns. And it this latter course that proves the most promising for solving the underlying problem of the stuttering at its deepest roots—and also serves to form a hard-earned bond of friendship between the patient and therapist.
Albert's quest to overcome his speech impediment is complicated, in part, by both family dynamics and the era in which he lives.
Albert's quest to overcome his speech impediment is complicated, in part, by both family dynamics and the era in which he lives. His father, King George V, is a stern man whose browbeating manner has likely contributed to the stuttering problem; his elder brother David (officially Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David) shows little interest in or respect for either Albert or his own obligations as a British royal; and Adolph Hitler is inciting the German populace in the lead-up to what will become World War II.
Upon King George V's death in 1936 from complications of pneumonia, David ascends to the throne as King Edward VIII—but his reign is short-lived, owing to his lack of respect for political and royal convention and a rift with the Church of England caused by his intention to marry an American woman, Mrs. Wallis Simpson, who is seeking a divorce from her second husband even as she and David pursue their relationship. And when David abdicates, Albert is thrust squarely into the royal spotlight as King George VI, the man who will be called upon to stand as brave and vocal figurehead to the British Empire for the duration of World War II.
The king's goal is clearly defined—to cure his speech impediment to a degree sufficient for him to execute his royal duty during wartime.
It is against the background of these complications that the story plays out with a clearly defined goal for its main character—to cure his speech impediment to a degree sufficient for him to execute his royal duty during wartime. And it is a goal that manifests particularly in the form of a radio address that Albert must deliver at the onset of the war.
Behind the Scenery
To determine the type of intent that drives the main character in The King's Speech, it is necessary to examine his external goal—that is, to find a cure for his speech impediment. In seeking a cure, he is not expressing an intent to keep a treasure that currently exists. On the contrary, the condition that currently exists (affliction by the impediment) is one that he would like very much to lose. And because the impediment has dogged him for as long as he can remember, he cannot be said to intend to regain a treasure that previously existed and was lost—that is, a life free of the impediment.
In this story, the main character, Albert, is a gain character, and his treasure may be expressed as "freedom from a crippling impediment." And due to the deep-seated nature of the impediment, the external goal is very clearly mirrored in the form of a broader internal goal—that of freeing himself from the parts of his own character that might prevent him from rising to the task that destiny has assigned him.
In this story, the main character, Albert, is a gain character, and his treasure may be expressed as "freedom from a crippling impediment."
In a broad sense, therefore, the issue of the story may be stated as "gaining freedom from personal impediments to success in the performance of noble duties." And because the storytellers appear to present the issue as the basis of an advisable endeavor, the proposition may be stated as:
- One should attempt to gain freedom from personal impediments that would prevent him from carrying out his noble duties, because success in the attempt will empower him as a person and influence positively the lives of those who are affected by his performance.
Although the quest to free himself from his speech impediment is not easy for Albert, in the end, with Lionel's help, he succeeds well enough to deliver a unifying speech at the start of the war—and, as we-the-audience are informed before the credits roll, to continue to do so throughout the war. And because the attempt is noble and carried out bravely, we are pleased by the outcome (success); therefore, The King's Speech stands very clearly among the ranks of succeed/pleased stories.
And because the collateral damages are few for the main character, the ending can be classified as happy.
Aspects to Admire Especially
The King's Speech is an especially interesting study in the Discovering the Soul of Your Story principles on two counts: 1) the absence of an "antagonist" and 2) the metaphorical nature of the goal.
Although Albert's journey is not without its highs, lows, flashes of progress, and setbacks, he cannot be said to be directly opposed by any individual character in the story. The core ensemble consists of many allies, including Lionel and Elizabeth, each of whom supports his attempt in a different manner. And it also includes characters who hinder his quest—including his father, his brother, and even the Archbishop of the Church of England. But none of the hindering characters directly oppose Albert's quest to free himself from his impediment. In fact, King George V and the Archbishop may be said to attempt to help him vanquish the impediment, but in ways that are not at all helpful. And even David's cruel, momentary mocking of Albert at one point is born of defensiveness rather than the attempt to prevent Albert from achieving his goal.
The effectiveness of The King's Speech is also greatly aided by the metaphorical nature of Albert's goal.
The effectiveness of The King's Speech is also greatly aided by the metaphorical nature of Albert's goal. While his external goal is clear and measurable—freedom from the speech impediment that has dogged him his entire life—the impediment also represents and stems from a deeper, psychological impediment... and it is this impediment that we-the-audience long to see Albert gain freedom from, so that he can rise to occasion that destiny has in store for him, not only for his own sake, but for that of the entire British Empire.
It is this clear-but-subtle reflection of the internal goal in the form of the external goal that serves to amplify the power of the story, draw us-the-audience into its world, and prompt us to root for success on the part of its main character.