Monday, 28 February 2011

The King's Speech.

Having watched The King's Speech I was surprised by how much it resonated with me on a (pretty painful) personal level. Bertie's speech impediment and his agonizing and heart-wrenching attempts at addressing massive audiences in spite of it brought back memories and sensations to me that had been carefully buried: of my difficulties when speaking in class at school. Such is my vanity, and the revisionist nature of my personality, that I guess I had almost erased those experiences from my memory and self-consciously constructed a new personality at university; for when watching the film (fittingly crowned itself at last night's Academy Awards) the sharp pangs of embarrassment, shame and insecurity (although so long-buried that I had to ask myself whether or not they were actually my own experiences or things that I had, over the intervening decade, picked up and woven into the fabric of my personality from my tortuous and myriad wanderings in fiction and narrative) came back to me in a very real way.

Although by nowhere near as chronic or debilitating as the titular King's, the difficulty I had in reading aloud out of books and making presentations in front of my peers was every bit as real and agonizing to me. Possibly my appreciation of the film is that much greater as I feel I can relate to it just a little more closely because of that. Certainly I felt keenly what Bertie felt as he made that long walk to the broadcasting device at the film's denouement, to deliver the speech that signaled the commencement of the war on Hitler's Germany, and that represents the film's climax.

I know what it's like to dread a particular moment like that, as I'm sure we all do in some sense. For me it was awaiting my turn to read a page out of a novel, or to make a presentation: the desks in our English class would often be arranged in a square, so forming a ring of pupils who would read a page at a time before passing onto the person next to them. I remember with pain (and shock now) the acute nervousness and distress that would afflict me as I would anxiously count down the number of people to my left or right before I'd be called on to read aloud. I remember, when there was one person remaining before myself, the way that my heartbeat would be racing, my chest would tighten and I had genuine difficulty breathing. When it came the time to speak up it was a chastening experience: I could feel everyone's eyes on me, such was my self-consciousness, and yet I knew that each of those sets of eyes belonged to really lovely people with whom I'd interact quite normally at any other time (or as normally as these horrible performances of mine when called upon to speak aloud, and which made me feel distinctly abnormal, permitted). At it's worst, often there would be long, embarrassing pauses as I struggled with my breathing and pounding heart and it was my acute, inescapable awareness of how I sounded to those around me that exacerbated the problem.

What makes that scene at the film's climax resonate so much with me, and for which the director deserves a lot of credit, is the hallucinatory, extra-sensory way in which that long walk is depicted. Whenever I have awaited moments that hold dread for me, incidental details are intensified, and my senses feel heightened: lights feel brighter, periphery sounds and noise more audible. Perhaps the thing I remember most vividly is looking out of classroom windows and seeing someone, perhaps a man out walking his dog, and wishing I could be that person, or to put it another way, be somewhere else. Whenever I'd look upon other people in these moments, see them laughing, interacting normally with one another, unburdened by the anxiety, stress and fear I was suffering, it always served another purpose as well: that of grounding me with reality. It reminded me that there was a world outside oblivious to my own private hell; my family were out there, my brother and sister probably in another part of that very school and free of the anxieties I was going through, and this was always a source of solace and comfort to me, and served in a way of contextualizing and compartmentalizing what it was I was experiencing, making me realize just how ridiculous and inconsequential were the worries and emotions going through my head, at least to others.

These sights and sounds and the distorted way in which they reach your senses at these times of panic and fear are perfectly captured in this scene. The engineers and technicians he passes as they go about their own jobs and lives, making their final checks on the equipment that will soon be broadcasting his speech to the entire British Empire, are the people who I would see out the window, people who I would devote inordinately more thought to at these times than I otherwise would in life when not afflicted by that crippling shyness. Every object you pass seems to possess something that you've missed in it before: the creak of a door represents an anchor that you so desperately want to cling onto; somebody's friendly encouragement and platitudes are conversations you want never to end.

These are all sensations that were brought back to me in a hurry when I watched The King's Speech, and in understanding something of what Bertie must have been going through, it made the ending truly moving for me.

1 comment:

  1. It's so strange reading how you perceived this movie. I also found it really captivating, but maybe identified more with Bertie's wife. I never had problems reading out loud at school, you see. On the contrary I was desperate for the teacher to call my name! But I admired her perseverance in trying to get help for him. Not to mention her blunt and confident yet friendly demeanour, which I found really refreshing. I loved the part which showed her reluctance to marry Bertie in the first place, where she mentions that she thought his speaking abilities would keep them out of the limelight! :)