Friday, March 18, 2011

The King's Speech

Dear Readers,

I reached out to people involved in Erasing the Distance for ideas on blog posts about mental illness, casting the net wide for new topics.  One idea was mental illness in the movies.
Today I am happy to introduce the first post on this blog by Chris Weise, which happens to be about the hit drama "The King's Speech" and how it connects to Erasing the Distance.  Enjoy!

~ Oriana @ Erasing the Distance

Post author Chris Weise. Chris is a member of ETD's Ambassador Council and also the newest addition to our staff as the Touring Production Manager. 

The King's Speech is a theatre movie.  It is also a mental health movie.
I saw it the Friday before the Oscars aired.  I knew I would like it, but I was unprepared for its similarities to the Erasing the Distance mission.

(Spoilers below)

Good King George the VI (Colin Firth), or "Bertie" as his friends call him, had a stammer.  This condition was brought on by verbal and emotional abuse from his father and other family members.  This is never overtly stated...but not hard to deduce.  Bertie eventually seeks out Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist, to help his condition.  That is the film in brief.

Lionel, very quickly, figures out that Bertie's stammer is not due to genetics or a physical defect.  He discovers it's psychological.  This being the case, he uses theatrical acting techniques to help Bertie manage his stammer.  I say "manage" and not "overcome" because Bertie doesn't eliminate his stammer.  He can't, fully...because it seeded deeply within from decades of abuse, where acting exercises alone cannot reach. 

Colin Firth as King George VI in The King's Speech

When Lionel understands Bertie's stammer is psychological, his approach to treatment slightly changes.  He begins to ask Bertie personal questions about his family, specifically his father and brothers.  A great deal is learned about paternal pressure and teasing siblings.  Using this combination of verbal processing and acting techniques, Bertie makes solid progress.  Through expressing himself and sharing secrets he has treated with shame, he understands how to manage his stammer.

At this point, my mind went "Huh?  This is Erasing the Distance."

Lionel literally uses his experience in theatre to shed light on Bertie's mental illness.  The tricky thing about this is, it’s never expressly stated.  It's there however, if you are a present audience member, it's RIGHT in front of you. 

At Erasing the Distance, we "shed light on mental illness through theatre."  This is the goal we all work towards every single day.  It is very difficult, exhausting, and delightfully rewarding.  Along comes this massive, award winning film, which so eloquently showcases our mission in the most subtle of ways.

I left the theater with an enormous smile on my face and a swell of pride in my chest.  It makes me happy to know that we aren't the only ones who understand the value of this. 
Thank you, Chris Weise, for sharing this!
Interested in how mental illnesses are portrayed in the movies? Check out ETD Ensemble Member Chris Hauser's earlier blog post on this topic.

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