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The King's Speech: From Screen to Stage | Film reviews, news & interviews

The King's Speech: From Screen to Stage

David Seidler on writing his Oscar-winning story, and why he always wanted to see it on the stage

Emma Fielding (Elizabeth) and Charles Edwards (George VI) in the stage production of 'The King's Speech'Manuel Harlan/Perou

George VI had been my hero since childhood because I was such a terrible stutterer. We had been evacuated from England to the US and during the war, particularly the latter stages, my parents would encourage me to listen to the King’s speeches on the wireless. “Listen, David,” they’d say, “he was a far worse stutterer than you, and listen to him now. He’s not perfect but he can give these magnificent stirring speeches that really work. So there’s hope for you.” It didn’t help me at the time but I thought, wow, he’s brave. When I grew up to be a writer I thought I would like to write something about George VI.

I had written Tucker for Francis Ford Coppola and I was under the illusion that I could now do anything I wanted to in Hollywood, so I started doing really serious research. And just occasionally there would be this blip on the radar screen: Lionel Logue. Very little was written about him, maybe because the royal stutter was a royal embarrassment. It was called a speech defect and if you had a defect you were by definition a defective person. But occasionally he would be just mentioned in passing and I thought, maybe there’s something there, and then one of the mentions hinted that he didn’t have a doctor’s degree, he was not a trained speech therapist - he was an elocutionist from Western Australia who did Shakespeare readings in pubs and wanted to be an actor. That’s my story, I thought. (David Seidler pictured below, by Francesco Sapienza.)

I asked a friend in London to see if they could locate anybody by the name of Logue who might have any connection. They came up with the address of Valentine Logue, one of his sons, who in the film is always reading textbooks. By the time I contacted him he was a long-retired brain surgeon but he said, “Come to London and I’ll speak with you and I even have the notebooks that my father kept when treating the King. But you must get written permission from the Queen Mother."

I dutifully wrote to her and she wrote back - through her private secretary but it was clearly dictated by her. “Please Mr Seidler, not during my lifetime. The memory of these events is still too painful.”

My Christmas present in 2005 was a diagnosis of cancer. At the time it looked extremely serious, and it was a terrible shock. After I had done a few days of mucus and tears, I thought this is not very healthy. I knew perfectly well that sort of profound grief lowers the immune system which is your only ally in battling cancer. I thought I’ve got to get over being sorry for myself and creative work has always been my solace. I thought, what shall I write? A couple of years earlier the Queen Mother had passed away and I was no longer under an obligation not to write Bertie’s story. I thought, if you’re not going to write it now, when are you going to write it?

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