Thursday 27 January 2011

Cod Psychotherapy

Last night I saw the multi-Oscar-nominated "King's Speech" about George VI (Colin Firth) getting to grips with his stammer with the help of a maverick Australian therapist. This was our default choice as there wasn't anything better to see so we didn't have high expectations and I wasn't at all sure Mrs Blog would engage with it as she has a visceral, "anarchist peasant" (as opposed to metropolitan lefty) distaste for royalty.

In fact the stuff about dealing with the stammer was compelling viewing (and I see that the British Stammering Association approves heartily of the film - see an interesting interview between Firth and their Chief Executive here). The therapeutic technique was multi-layered, ranging from direct speech therapy (practising links, strengthening the diaphragm, etc) through cognitive stuff (association of ideas, release of blocks through colourful swearing) and onto heavy-duty if (for filmic purposes) cod psychotherapy exposing some bitter experiences including a cruel nanny, invidious comparison with siblings, enforced right-handedness, and absence of friendships.

Though I couldn't judge to what extent the film was true to life (or indeed whether such techniques are appropriate to the condition) the film did convey one great truth about therapy, that is that the therapist must warmly, genuinely and demonstratively show their care for their client irrespective of how off-the-wall their methodology may be. And no doubt the film will do a bit of good concerning this very common but little-discussed problem.

But the background history was simplified to the point of being misleading. The abdicating Edward VIII was accurately portrayed as a nasty piece of work with little intelligence but some unpleasant enthusiasms including Nazism and the sinister night-time skills of Mrs Simpson. But the hero "Bertie" (as the king was known to his intimates) was played as a straightforward patriot with the right instincts about Churchill etc. whereas in fact he was a dull booby, had little grasp of the international situation, thought Munich a great triumph, and favoured appointing appeaser Lord Halifax as Prime Minister when Chamberlain resigned.

So, lucky he had no say in the matter or we would all be speaking German - not that he wanted that, of course, whereas his older brother might have been ambivalent.

But the point is that we aren't run by the royals and their personal opinions are no more interesting or important than the next person's. The old Queen Mum (played by Helena Bonham-Carter in the film) knew this and, though apparently she had very unreconstructed, right-wing views, she only shared them with her closest friends and was therefore the darling of the nation ("Gawd bless 'er!") in spite of apparently looking down on us lowly oiks from a great height. Like her husband she was not a very bright person but, also like him, she did at least know as much and therefore kept her mouth shut.

Would that some modern royals would also Socratically recognise their limitations, keep quiet about their daffy plans for the nation's health, architecture and eco-system, and thereby avoid swelling the numbers joining Mrs B in wheeling out the tumbrel.