FROM THE PAGE
From the Page: An Introduction and Look at Oscar Scripts - Part I
by Cate Hahneman
February 15, 2011
Welcome to From the Page, a new series on FirstShowing that takes a closer look at the original source or blueprint for some of our most beloved and despised films: the screenplay. Every week we will glimpse at the page of known, and sometimes not-so-known, scripts to view scenes in their original form (see below for an example, it'll make sense). I'll give a brief history of the story or the writer behind it. Occasionally we may even see the scene again, courtesy of YouTube, and often I will attach the link for you to download the entire screenplay (if publicly available). Let's kick this off with a look at a script nominated for an Oscar this year!
First up: David Seidler's The King's Speech. Seidler has a long history with the story of King George VI (father of today's Queen Elizabeth) and his embarrassing stammer. He had to wait years for the Queen Mum (George's wife) to sign off on the project because she insisted that he wait until after she had passed. Seidler himself grew up with stuttering speech, resulting most likely from the trauma of his wartime experience. But more interestingly was that Seidler discovered while in the middle of drafting The King's Speech as well as its corresponding play (yes, there's a play, too!) that his uncle was a client of speech therapist Lionel Logue. That is the very same therapist of King George VI, the subject of Seidler's story.
Below is an excerpt from Seidler's script during a scene between King George VI (played Colin Firth) and speech therapist Lionel Logue (played Geoffrey Rush) when they meet for their very first speech session:
I prefer Lionel. What'll I call you?
Your Royal Highness.
A bit formal for here.
Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George?
How about Bertie?
Only my family uses that.
Perfect. We must be true equals.
If we were equal I wouldn't be here. I'd be at home with my wife and nobody would give a damn.
Bertie starts to light a cigarette from a silver case.
Don't do that.
Bertie gives him an astonished look.
Sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.
My physicians say it relaxes the throat.
They've all been knighted.
Makes it official then.
Notice the tension and clashing personalities? This is the moment when Logue assures King George that despite any noble titles the two men are, in fact, equals and that he will not treat him as a "special client."
It's a rather impressive feat for Siedler to convince the audience, who has already spent the first twenty or so pages following a commanding royal figure, that this gangly Australian in an under-sized grey suit will have any influence on him. Lionel is a failed Shakespearean actor and a father of disinterested boys, but he stated earlier that his office is his domain. His house, his rules, and Lionel's dialogue is commanding with a natural ease. He challenges the future King on the seemingly trivial topics but, of course, their conversation has nothing to do with nicknames and cigarettes.
On the contrast, Bertie is completely out of his comfort zone. He's bearing a lifetime's worth of shame and certainly doesn't believe this strange man is going to cure him. He's irritable, curt, and pompous. But his most telling line is when he says that if it weren't for his royal position he would be at home. He might have lived his entire life with that uncomfortable, even mortifying (when telling his daughters bedtime stories) stammer. Siedler is drawing attention to the "gift and curse" significance of Prince Albert's position. He fears public speaking but it's his role as the future King of England that gives him the confidence he might have otherwise lived forever without. A fantastic moment of dialogue from The King's Speech.
Also worth noting: Siedler did not write the stammering throughout the script. Bertie's lines here show no sign of a speech problem. Siedler included a few stutters in the beginning of the script, then noted that it should continue throughout. It was all up to (Oscar nominated) actor Colin Firth to decide on which words he should place his hesitation. That might be the reason why most expect him to win the Oscar.
*We'll have more From the Page articles soon - stay tuned! The series continues with more Oscar scripts.