Description of the Case
The main character of The King’s Speech is Albert Frederick Arthur George, the Prince of York and later King George VI. As a potential heir to the throne of the British Empire after his elder brother Prince Edward, Albert is expected to fulfill royal responsibilities that include public speaking. However, Albert’s heavy stuttering makes him ill-equipped for speaking at public events or addressing large crowds of people.
In all likelihood, the cause of Albert’s stuttering is social anxiety disorder (SAD). SAD, also known as social phobia, is a debilitating condition characterized by the fear of social judgment (Sheurich, 2017). The fact that Albert stutters when speaking before gatherings of people but has no problems when speaking alone and listening to music indicates that his stuttering is likely due to the fear of being judged rather than impaired body functions. Hence, even though the main character does not suffer from any impairment, his disability imposes activity limitations and social participation restrictions upon him. Environmental factors worsen his conditions, as the responsibilities of the royal family oblige him to participate in the very activities and social interactions he cannot engage in fully. The stiff-upper-lip culture of the British Royal family, as depicted in the movie, also aggravates the situation.
Overview of the Movie
Theories Covered in the Movie
The film offers several examples of the theory of stigmatization, and the first one of those is the external reactions to Albert’s conditions. On one occasion, King George V expresses his frustration at Albert’s stuttering as a trait unbefitting a member of the British Royal family. In another scene, Albert’s father explains the importance of radio transmissions for maintaining the unity of the nation and stresses that Albert’s condition makes him less fit to fulfill his responsibilities as a prince. This scene is a literal example of stigmatization of people who stutter that manifests in their perception as less competent “in a variety of jobs in which communication is highly valued” (Boyle, 2017, p. 921). While the reactions of other characters also demonstrate different varieties of stigmatization, Albert’s relationship with his father is probably the most evident reference to this theory.
Another way in which the movie addresses the theory of stigmatization is Albert’s internalized perception of his condition. Throughout the film, he frequently engages in thinking about his condition – moreover, the vast majority of Albert’s thoughts and actions are connected to his stuttering in one or another way. This tendency reveals that, for Albert, his stuttering has become an inherent part of his stigma-identity construct (Gerlach, 2019). Closer to the end of the film, when Albert, as King George VI, reads aloud the declaration of war to Nazi Germany, his therapist points out that he still has trouble pronouncing “w.” Albert responds that he had to “throw in a few” so that the listeners would be convinced it was him. By doing so, the main character engages in disclosure – behavior related to the stigma-identity construct that manifests as a public demonstration of the stigmatized condition (Gerlach, 2019). Thus, the movie demonstrates that Albert copes with his stuttering in ways characteristic of those with stigmatized conditions.
In the course of The King’s Speech, Albert is seen participating in numerous leisure and social activities with varying degrees of success. His attempt to speak at the closing of the British Empire exhibition at the beginning of the movie results in embarrassing failure, thus revealing his condition to the audience for the first time. While this episode makes it uncomfortable for Albert to participate in other social activities, he still does it if necessary, as when having to confront his brother over British foreign policy.
In order to struggle with his disability, Albert engages in a number of leisure interventions intended to help him overcome his stuttering. One example of such an intervention is singing aloud – a vocal exercise offered by the prince’s speech trainer to improve fluency. Another example is using swearing and obscene language to overcome psychological barriers related to public self-expression and reduce the aggravating impact of British Royal family culture as a contextual factor in Albert’s condition. These leisure interventions are shown to gradually improve Albert’s self-confidence and ability to speak in public despite the social stigma associated with stuttering.
Prince Albert, the main character of The King’s Speech, suffers from a social anxiety disorder that makes him mostly unable to speak in public without stuttering, thus affecting his social participation severely. His responsibilities as a member of the British Royal family are an aggravating factor for his condition. The movie refers to the different facets of stigmatization theory and demonstrates how others perceive eh prince as less-than-competent, and Albert himself engages in behaviors characteristic of those with the stigma-identity construct. To cope with his disability, Albert uses a variety of leisure interventions, such as singing aloud and swearing, intended to improve his confidence and social participation.
Boyle, M. (2017). ‘Personal perceptions and perceived public opinion about stuttering in the United States: Implications for anti-stigma campaigns,’ American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 26, pp. 921-938.
Gerlach, H. (2019). The role of stigma-identity constructs in psychological health outcomes among adults who stutter. PhD. The University of Iowa.
Goelitz, D., Trenkamp, C. and Paulus, P. (2017). Leisure activities in care homes: How do they relate to the well-being of the elderly? In Z. Benko et al., eds., Leisure, health, and well-being: A holistic approach. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 73-77.
Scheurich, J. (2017). Using exposure therapy to treat people who stutter: A multiple baseline design. MS. The University of Central Florida.