Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Review: “The King’s Speech” by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi

As the new film “The King’s Speech” is released to great acclaim and Award recognition, there is a renewed interest in the story of King George VI of England and his friend and speech therapist, Lionel Logue.

Now, Sterling Publishing has released a new book of the same title, written by Logue’s grandson Mark Logue with Peter Conradi, a wonderfully detailed and marvelous human chronicle.  It's worth a look, both as a tie-in to the film which inspired it, and on its own as an exciting read.

“The King’s Speech” interweaves two stories: King George’s sudden ascent to the throne after the abdication of his brother, and his terror of public speaking due to a lifelong stammer; and a full account the life of Lionel Logue, the prominent Australian elocutionist, who helped wounded and traumatized soldiers regain their ability to speak.

The authors expand the story beyond the WWII years to include a full account of Lionel’s life and travels, the King’s troubled upbringing and ascension to the throne, the influence of their families and friends, and the eventual meeting and working relationship between King and Counselor.

The book is a labor of love by Logue, who was inspired to write it after the filming was completed, and after he discovered his deceased grandfather’s files full of letters, diaries, newspaper clippings, and photographs. Even the book’s larger-than-life subtitle (How One Man Saved the British Monarchy) tells us that Logue’s account will be an admiring, un-critical one. It is as much a tribute as a biography.

Far from being stodgy and dry, it is filled with surprising and often amusing insights into important figures, and is set against glorious locations during the most significant events of the Twentieth Century. Especially fun are early passages describing Logue’s and his wife Myrtle’s travels to America, how they enjoyed Chicago,  loved the drug stores, cafes and automobiles there, but were unimpressed with the bad manners of the local women.

(Being a native of the “Second” city, I was even more amused at the accounts of New York as “a city of atrocities and lawlessness.”)

Logue and Conradi do an admirable job of going through a mountain of material to write a clear, well-paced, and often suspenseful account. The book begins on the day of George’s coronation.  It then flashes back to the beginnings of each of these men’s lives, proceeding chronologically through World War II and the famous Speech, and on to their final days. 

While the firsthand materials dictate the amount of depth possible, and while there are few attempts to speculate or analyze, the writers stay true to their intention to illustrate how history was moved through the better efforts of human nature.

“The King’s Speech” makes a solid case for the importance of good speaking and clear thinking, and made me excited about the possibilities of examining and improving my own elocution. Snippets of Logue’s diaries proved inspiring:

“There is a mistaken idea that ‘hustle’ implies achievement, whereas it really means a wrong use of energy and is an enemy of beauty…The English voice is one of the finest in the world but its effect is often spoiled by wrong production.”

The book itself suggests that the arts of persuasive speaking, letter-writing, and the keeping of detailed diaries, may be fading, but need not be forgotten; and that they may even have their place in modern discourse, and as a legacy for historians.

For me, what makes this almost-forgotten, historical human-interest story still relevant today is the depiction of the positive effects of true friendship on any two lives, regardless of their stations in life, disabilities, or advantages:

“The King took two steps to the table, and Logue squeezed his arm for luck. The gesture spoke volumes about the closeness of the two men’s relationship; no one was meant to touch a king unbidden in that way. … There was nothing for Logue to do but just stand and listen, marveling at the King’s voice. When he had spoken his last words…the two men continued to look at each other in silence--‘the King and the commoner and my heart is too full to speak’. The King patted him on the hand."

If you are looking for a gift for a reader of history, a student of human nature, or a lover of movies, “The King’s Speech” is an excellent choice.

Here’s a look at Mark Logue, and some actual footage of people and events told in the book:

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