A Golden Voice

Director David Seidler waited 25 years to pen his dream project, a story about a burgeoning monarch who suffered from a debilitating stutter. Following Tuesday’s Oscar nomination announcements, “The King’s Speech” emerged as an early frontrunner, leading the pack with 12 nods overall, one of which is for Seidler’s critically acclaimed screenplay. After spending most of his time writing kiddie narratives about royalty (“The King and I,” “Quest for Camelot”), Seidler’s hand in a live-action drama was unexpected. But according to the UK native, “The King’s Speech” was conceptualized far before the release of “Quest for Camelot” or “The King and I.”

“When I originally wanted to write it in 1980, I contacted the queen mother because I had discovered a son of Logue’s (Geoffery Rush’s character) and he said he would cooperate and show me all his notebooks from when he was treating the king, but I had to get the queen’s permission,” Seidler said. “When I wrote to her, she said ‘Please Mr. Seidler, not in my lifetime. The memory of those events are still too painful.’”

So the project was benched.

“I had to wait 25 years,” Seidler said. “I didn’t think I would have to wait 25 years, I thought ‘She’s 80 — I’ll wait a couple of years.’ She died at 100 — almost 102.”

It was worth the wait. When “The King’s Speech” finally came together, the 74-year-old was thrilled with all the A-listers signed on to the film.

“Working with them was like dying and going to heaven for a writer, because seldom do you get such a fine cast,” he said. “Colin [Firth] is quite amazing. I think it’s very unfair that someone can be that intelligent, that char- ismatic, that talented, that good-looking and that nice too. He really is truly a quintessential great guy. And Geoffrey is non-stop energy — the two of them worked together beautifully.”

Seidler had always imagined Rush as Lionel, but hadn’t expected Firth to take on Bertie. The screenwriter was pleasantly surprised with how well he fit the role.

“He probed very deeply as to what it felt like to be a stutterer,” Seidler said. (The screenwriter suffered from a stutter from ages three to 16.) “What it actually physically felt like, what the muscles felt like. The bones lock up, that sinking feeling in your stomach. He really wanted to know viscerally what it was all about. And emotionally what it was all about — the sense of isola- tion, the sense of frustration, the sense of not being able to have a voice to make yourself heard. And he absorbed all of this. After days he had that stutter down — it was incredible.”

As for Bertie’s wife, Seidler developed admiration for the film’s leading lady, Helena Bonham Carter.

“Helena is . . . I’m totally in love with her,” Seidler said. “I told her to tell Tim Burton [Carter’s husband] to watch his back. She’s wonderfully mischievous.”

Though Seidler made no sacrifices in terms of the cast, the script bled on the cutting room floor. Two aspects of Seidler’s original screen- play were cut from “The King’s Speech” during pre-production, a time when major changes can occur to a film’s script, at the discretion of the director and producers.

“Originally Cosmo Lang and Winston Churchill were almost a comic Greek chorus,” Seidler said. “Some funny lines, I mean really funny lines. And Tom [Hooper, the film’s director] felt, and in retrospect I feel that he was absolutely correct, that it was too theatrical. It was wonderful for a stage play, but for a film, it felt a little mattered and stagey. And he didn’t want any of that, so that all got taken out. Really, some of my best lines — gone, gone, gone.”

The second change was more controversial. Seidler had originally penned King George’s death to mirror how it plays out in the history books.

“The euthanasia of King George V, you realize he was euthanized — they finished him off because they wanted the news to go out to the respectable BBC and London Times,” Seidler said. “They didn’t want the news to be told by the less disciplined afternoon papers. But he wasn’t dying on time, so they euthanized him; they actually euthanized him with an injection of morphine and codeine. I thought that was, first off, very powerful and dramatic. And more important than that, I thought it said something very meaningful about the topic; in other words, it showed the power of the new media and therefore what Bertie was up against.”

Instead, filmmakers agreed to gloss over the messy details.

“Ultimately, Tom and the producers decided — we filmed it — but it didn’t make the final cut,” Seidler said. “They felt it was so controversial that it would start such a controversy, it would overpower discussions of the film itself. And so that was the reason for that.”

Even though “The King’s Speech” is still making its rounds at awards shows, Seidler has already begun work on a new project.
“Next for me is a project called ‘The Lady Who Went too Far,’” Seidler said. “It’s about Lady Hester Stanhope, who in the Napoleonic wars, went off into the Middle East and became a Lawrence of Arabia — sort of a Laura of Arabia. Exactly what Lawrence did, only 100 years before him.“

We can only hope it earns him as much Oscar gold as his current biopic.

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