“The King’s Speech” – which officially opens in the UK today – is a marvellous film. It compellingly, and movingly, tells the story of “How one man saved the British monarchy”, to quote its tagline.
The one man in question is not the fascinating King George VI, played brilliantly by Colin Firth, but his speech therapist Lionel Logue, played just as impressively by Geoffrey Rush. Logue was an accomplished but slightly unorthodox Australian without paper qualifications who nevertheless single-handedly helped a Prince who would become King (against his own expectations and wishes!) to speak publicly despite a lifelong stammer.
How did he do it? Relatively little so far seems to be known about his actual technique. However, the movie’s director Tom Hooper had access, just before filming, to archival material uncovered by Logue’s grandson Mark. His film thought-provokingly portrays Logue’s treatment as not primarily focused on the speech defect as a physical deficiency but more as a mental malaise.
Notably in three places in David Seidler’s perfectly paced script the man heralded, in hindsight, as a saviour of the monarchy, addresses the need to lift the burden of fear from the mind of his “pupil”. (That’s what Logue preferred to call his patients, according to Australian biographer Norman Hutchinson, author of Lionel Logue: The King’s Mentor.) At one point in “The King’s Speech” Logue says to the stammering Prince “I’m trying to get you to realise that you can’t be governed by fear.”
These are pointers to a possibility that doesn’t surface in either the movie or in the book on which it is based, Mark Logue and Peter Conradi’s excellent biography of the same name. That possibility is that Lionel Logue was to some extent dipping into a source of ideas associated with a healing practice that was rapidly spreading at the time when Logue was transformed from an actor, public speaker and teacher into a revolutionary speech therapist.
That source of ideas was Christian Science, based on the healing work of Jesus, as articulated by Mary Baker Eddy in her own revolutionary book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. It is a spiritual approach to healing that “commences with mental causation” and roots out fear on the basis of an understanding of the nature of God as being “perfect love” as the Bible describes Him in a letter written by John. In 1996 Lionel Logue’s son Valentine wrote a letter* confirming that his father was indeed a Christian Scientist (and a Freemason). Norman Hutchinson’s biography also shares the author’s own childhood memories of Logue being talked about as a Christian Scientist when he was growing up in Perth.
Logue’s approach – as portrayed in the movie – is not Christian Science practice in its purest sense, which is healing based solely on taking into account and addressing spiritual factors. The Christian Science practitioner will not additionally use physical exercises, the psychological probing of a patient’s emotional history, or other such means. While this purely spiritual approach to healing has its critics, it also has its champions, particularly those who are grateful for the spiritual and practical good they have experienced from applying its teaching to their own needs and the needs of others.
Somewhere between the critics and the champions are those who might be understandably cautious about promoting something they do not fully understand.
In a recent ‘Star Chat’ interview with Alison James in Yours magazine, Colin Firth comes out sounding like that, in his comments on how George (or Bertie, as he was known by friends and family) was helped in his public speaking by the character played by Geoffrey Rush. “Logue didn’t ‘cure’ him – we were conscious that this shouldn’t be a film about a miraculous recovery – but his methods certainly helped the king learn how to control and overcome his stammer.”
While it is quite possible that Firth didn’t know about the Christian Science connection – and wasn’t referring to that – this would have been an understandable concern if he did. Christian Science is often mistakenly assumed to be a belief in miracle healing, like the belief in getting a cure from going to Lourdes, or like the faith healing that is practised by many. And clearly, in contrast, it is historically accurate, as depicted in the movie, that Lionel Logue’s work with the Prince and then the King was not a quick cure. It was a progressive loosening of a limitation that never totally left him, although its hold over him was successfully subdued.
The practice of Christian Science can, and often does, deliver quick cures, but that isn’t its driving motive. The main focus of Christian Science practice is to promote spiritual growth individually and in the community – inspiring (not forcing!) a lessening of the grip of materialism in favour of a conscious sense and growing understanding of the goodness of God and of the underlying unity of humanity. When people have healings that don’t come so quickly they often find that the resulting experience of spiritual growth is much greater and more rewarding despite the trial of having to work something out over a period of time. But whether fast or slow, recovery is seen as dependent on proving God’s consistent spiritual laws of impartial good for all, not on harbouring a faith in a God whose will could go either way. Consequently the word “miracle” doesn’t enter into the lexicon of Christian Science except as a term for what a cure that comes from a reasoned trust in the healing power of divine Love, God, is mistakenly assumed to be.
In a video interview recorded by a colleague of mine, Norman Hutchinson gives an example when Lionel Logue is recorded as having turned around a speech defect in just one visit. And both Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald and The Age quote Dr Caroline Bowen, a speech and language pathologist who has researched Logue’s practice, saying ”As a Christian Scientist, Logue was passionate about healing, and perhaps this, coupled with his background in elocution, led to [his treatment of] returned servicemen who had speech disorders attributed to shell shock.” Many other aspects of Logue’s character, as portrayed in the movie, would also resonate with most Christian Scientists as being qualities they feel they have gained from the teachings – a capacity for calm in the midst of commotion, a trust in the ability of good to prevail, and an ability to exceed one’s own limited life script by virtue of that spiritual confidence.
However, it is fair to say that as he is lovingly portrayed in “The King’s Speech” Lionel Logue is not a study of an individual who has completely committed either his life or his therapeutic practice to the God-centred approach of the Christian Science Mary Baker Eddy founded. Also, in the post-World War II years, after his wife’s death – according to Valentine Logue’s 1996 letter – his dad “became interested in spiritualism…and he maintained this interest until he died”. In the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, spiritualism is described as “a theory contrary to” the Christian spirituality advanced in her teachings. (Although the Founder of Christian Science stressed that she entertained “no doubt of the humanity and philanthropy of many Spiritualists, but I cannot coincide with their views.”)
So a question waits to be more fully investigated and answered. To what degree were the prayerful, metaphysical ideas of Christian Science a part and parcel of Lionel Logue’s uncharted technique for helping the transformation of stammering Prince Albert into a competent King at such a crucial time for royalty’s part in the effort to protect the civilised world from the forces of fascism and the threat of communism?
At one point in the movie, when unsuccessfully struggling to get his words out fluently, Colin Firth’s character – by then crowned as George VI – gets upset with the phrase “God save the King”. Out of frustration he says of that God “apparently no-one is listening!”
But perhaps, after all, He was.
Below is the trailer for the movie, and on the right is a special panel of links to other articles that touch on the fact that Lionel Logue was a Christian Scientist.
* Letter to Ms Suzanne Edgar, Research Editor, Research School of Social Sciences, The Australian National University.