‘King’s Speech’ Writer Speaks Here

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By Sara Hall | NB Indy


King George VI may have had a stutter, but he delivered speeches that could move the world, said screenwriter David Seidler.

Seidler knew since he was a child that he wanted to write about the king, since he too struggled with his own stutter.

“I’m a stutterer, I will always be a stutterer,” Seidler said at the movie’s Orange County premiere Tuesday night at the Regency Lido Theatre.

Now, 70 years later, his original screenplay, “The King’s Speech,” is a critically acclaimed movie and has seven Golden Globe nominations.

“He was always an idol,” Seidler said, adding that at a young age “I resolved that I would write something about Bertie.”

“Bertie” was a popular nickname for the king during his reign.

The event came on the same day the Golden Globe nominations were announced and the 115th anniversary of the king’s birth. The city of Newport Beach also declared that Dec. 14 was “King’s Speech” day.

The event was presented by the Orange County Film Society and the Newport Beach Film Festival. The red carpet evening also included an interview of Seidler by Daily Variety Executive Editor Steven Gaydos and audience questions after the movie.

The movie is a biopic about King George VI (Colin Firth) and his struggle with his speech impediment, his relationship with speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) and his sudden move to king after his brother, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce, abdicates. With his country on the brink of war and in need of a leader, his wife Elizabeth, the future Queen Mother (Helena Bonham Carter), enlists the help of Logue.

Seidler said he started thinking seriously about writing something about the king when he was at college. He came to Hollywood when he was about 40, he said, the time when most people leave, he joked. His first writing project was the movie “Tucker,” which he thought would instantly change his life. It didn’t, he said.

“So I started reading, a lot, about Bertie,” he said, and he started thinking more and more about writing something about the king.

Seidler, who was born in England, had a friend look up Logue to try and find out more information. His friend found Logue’s son, Valentine, who told Seidler he still had his father’s journals from when he was treating the king. Valentine Logue said he would let Seidler read them if he had permission from the Queen Mother. Seidler wrote her and asked for her consent, to which she replied, “Not in my lifetime” because the memories were too painful, Seidler said.

The Queen Mother died in 2002, nearly 30 years after Seidler had sent his request. Valentine Logue had died and Seidler had not kept track of where the journals went.

Shortly after, Seidler was diagnosed with cancer and was feeling sorry for himself, he said. After a bit he realized that feeling down about himself was unhealthy and was not doing him any good. He wanted to dive into work and he thought about Bertie.

“I thought, ‘Well, if you’re not going to tell Bertie’s story now, when exactly do you intend to tell it?,’” he said.

So he started writing.

Now, several years later, he is in remission and his movie about Bertie has seven Golden Globe nods.

He wrote the screenplay without the journals and based it off of his research and personal knowledge and experience. Just before they started shooting, Seidler said, Logue’s grandson showed up with the notebooks. The director, Tom Hooper, and others involved with the movie were excited, he said, but he was a little worried.

“I was not so thrilled, because what happens if the notebooks prove that I was wrong? I wasn’t pleased with this at all,” Seidler said.

After reviewing the books, Seidler found very little personal information, he said. Most of the notes were simple facts about Logue’s meetings with the king, describing what they were eating or wearing, Seidler said.

A few details, specifically when Logue went to the castle the day of the king’s wartime speech, were mentioned in the journals and then included within the movie. For example, gas masks were hanging on hooks by the coats when Logue arrived, Seidler said, and that was brought into the movie along with a few other details from the notebooks.

Seidler wrote about methods to treat stuttering that were documented techniques used by Logue, popular in that era, and used on himself. For example, he had to stuff marbles in his mouth, like seen in the movie, when he was a child, he said.

“I would never do a portrayal of stuttering and the techniques of dealing with it with anything other than a great deal of reverence,” Seidler said.

It was particularly frustrating for Seidler when he was about 16, he said. He couldn’t talk or ask out girls. He started to get angry about his stutter and thought it wasn’t fair, he said.

Eventually he thought, “‘If I am going to be stuttering the rest of my life, all of you are just going to have to listen to me,’” he said. And with that realization, the stutter was gone within two he weeks.

Seidler said he gave advice to Firth about stuttering and Firth asked a lot of questions. Firth rehearsed a lot and even started stuttering in one of his own speeches at an unrelated event, Seidler said.

He told Firth about the feeling and the frustration stuttering can cause, about how the jaw will lock up and how the jaw tightens up. In his script, Seidler only wrote in the stutters in the speech in the opening scene of the movie, the rest was up to Firth and the director, Tom Hooper.

“It was a big discussion,” Seidler said. “(Firth) did a magnificent job of recreating accurately what a stutter is like.”

The team wanted to make sure there was not too much stuttering but enough to portray how difficult, uncomfortable and stressful it can be.

All of the difficulties that Firth portrayed are what Seidler actually felt. The movie is very personal to Seidler because of his own struggles with a stutter.

“I grew up as a stutterer. But I had a ray of hope in my life… (My parents) said, ‘Listen to the king’s speech because he was a much worse stutterer than you are. So there is hope for you.’”

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