The Pillaged Voice

By Ansen, David | Newsweek, November 22, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Pillaged Voice


Ansen, David, Newsweek


Byline: David Ansen

In a business notoriously obsessed with youth, where it's not uncommon for screenwriters to lie about their age to win a job, David Seidler is a stunning anomaly. At 73, he finds himself, for the first time in his career, a hot property. "I'm very happy now, in retrospect, that this kind of success didn't happen to me early on. It can really bend your head. I would have become very pompous."

Seidler wrote the script of The King's Speech, a movie many consider the frontrunner to sweep the Oscars. It's the story of Prince Albert (Colin Firth), who would become King George VI when his dashing older brother, David--a.k.a. Edward VIII--abdicated in 1936 to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. With war looming, the prospect of public speaking terrified Albert, who for all his life had suffered from a crippling stammer, which every specialist in London had failed to cure. Then, at the bidding of his wife (Helena Bonham Carter), he met Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an unconventional, unlicensed Australian speech therapist and failed actor. Logue, who insisted on calling his patient by his family-only nickname, Bertie, made him come to his ramshackle home office for sessions, and slyly utilized Freud's talking cure to help the royal confront his emotionally frigid upbringing. There is much more to this irresistibly entertaining chronicle--power politics, royal-family intrigue, class comedy--but their relationship is the beating heart of Seidler's witty and heartbreaking screenplay, which has been impeccably mounted by director Tom Hooper and a heavy pound-sterling cast.

It's a story that the English-born, American-bred Seidler has wanted to tell all his life, for he grew up a stutterer himself. As a child on Long Island, where his family had fled to avoid the German bombs, Seidler had taken inspiration from King George's wartime radio broadcasts, knowing that the king had suffered from, and overcome, their common condition. Seidler underwent years of speech therapy and essentially cured himself at 16--an internal switch went off, and he converted self-pity into rage at his condition. Yet his disability is still deeply ingrained in his identity. "You carry it within you for a long time. I'm still a stutterer, but I've learned all the tricks so that you don't hear it," he says in his deep, cultured, fluent voice. Stutterers, he explains, grow up feeling they have no voice, that they can't be heard: they see in the eyes of their pained listeners that they have no right to speak.

The film's triumph has helped release Seidler's inner mute button. At the conclusion of the gala presentation of The King's Speech at the Toronto film festival in September, 2,000 people rose to their feet to give the filmmakers an ovation. "I was overwhelmed," Seidler says, "because for the first time ever, the penny dropped and I felt I had a voice and had been heard. For a stutterer, it's a profound moment." When the spotlight shone on the film's cast and crew, "there I was blubbering, the mucus and the tears coming down! This has been a very cathartic experience."

His moment of glory was a long time coming. Seidler, who had kicked around in television (Adventures of the Seaspray), and spent several years in Fiji writing propaganda for the islands' prime minister, thought his big breakthrough had come in the '70s, when his old high-school buddy Francis Ford Coppola signed him up to write Tucker, a movie about the maverick automaker both men had been obsessed with for years. …

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