‘The King’s Speech’ screenwriter on ‘Bertie’ and stuttering

Writer David Seidler talks of the impediment he suffered, and his admiration of King George VI, who was his hero. The Malibu Film Society will screen “The Company Men” and “The King’s Speech” on Sunday.

By Robyn Flans / Special to The Malibu Times

David Seidler, “The King’s Speech” screenwriter, never thought his script would see the light of day.

“If I had gone in to pitch a studio about a dead English king who stutters, they would have said, ‘This guy has lost it,’” Seidler said.

Even though Seidler has an impressive track record, including two nominations for writing achievements by the Writers’ Guild of America for the television movies, “My Father, My Son” and “By Dawn’s Early Light,” and one win for “Onassis, The Richest Man in the World,” it was not an easy job getting this movie made.

“This is why we need people like [Executive Producer] Harvey Weinstein,” Seidler said. “It could have fallen apart so many times in so many ways. My original vision was it was going to be a one million pound, BBC Three, three-camera production version of the stage play. I never dreamed this would get to America.”

Not only did it reach America, but the film, directed by Tom Hooper, has been nominated for seven Golden Globes and is expected to be up for Oscars as well, which is why it is part of the Award Series for the Malibu Film Society’s second season this Sunday at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue. Guy Pearce, who plays King Edward VIII, the Duke of York’s brother in “The King’s Speech,” will appear Sunday for a Q&A after the film’s screening.

Also showing Sunday is “The Company Men,” starring Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper as corporate men who lose their jobs and how it affects their lives, their marriages and future, and how they each deal with it. The movie, which was nominated for AFI and Sundance awards, will be followed by a question and answer session with writer/producer/director John Wells.

“The King’s Speech” is based on the true story of the Duke of York, or “Bertie” as he was known (played by Colin Firth’ Helen Bonham Carter plays his wife, Elizabeth), and his struggle with a debilitating stutter and his friendship with speech therapist Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush).

The duke, who became King George VI after the scandalous abdication of his brother Edward VIII (who absconded the throne to marry Wallis Simpson), was screenwriter Seidler’s childhood hero, who suffered from severe stuttering himself from a young age. Seventy-three-year-old Seidler was three years old when his family was evacuated from England to the United States just prior to the German invasion.

“At the time, during the war, everyone who listened to the speeches knew [the king] stuttered because you could still hear it,” Seidler said. “It wasn’t bad because Logue had done his job, but there were certainly hesitations. But what made him admirable, and why the British revered him, was everyone knew he stuttered; everyone knew he didn’t want to be king, and yet he was doing his job and doing a bang-up job of it. Those speeches are very, very moving, in spite of the pauses and hesitancies.”

Seidler’s own problem began just before his third birthday, which was “very classic for childhood-onset stuttering,” he said. He corrected his problem with the theme that is responsible for the movie’s R rating.

“I had reached the age of 16 and I knew perfectly well that if you don’t control your stuttering by late adolescence, your chances decline precipitously, which is one of the reasons I always felt Bertie was such a brave man,” Seidler said. “He was battling this thing in his 20s, 30s and 40s. That’s really tough, and particularly if you’re the King of England and everyone is listening to every syllable you are uttering.”

For Seidler, the onset of adolescence was a critical time.

“I reached 16, and it hadn’t gone away,” he recalled. “I got very depressed, the hormones were raging, I couldn’t ask girls out on a date, and even if I could and they said yes, what was the point? I couldn’t talk to them anyway. This was the ‘50s when you talked on dates, as opposed to anything else.

“I’m not prone to hold on to depression, I get very pro-active,” he continued. “I started saying the F-word, both out loud and, more importantly, internally. I decided I needed to be heard. Once that internal switch got flipped, the stuttering basically melted away within two weeks.”

“The Company Men” will screen at 5 p.m. in the Malibu Screening Room located at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, 24855 PCH, followed by a Q&A with director John Wells. “The King’s Speech” will screen at 7:30 p.m., followed by a Q&A with a special guest to be announced. Double feature tickets are $25; individual tickets are sold on availability basis, usually $15 for adults, $10 for faculty, $5 for students in advance by purchase online at www.malibufilmsociety.org, or $10 more at the door.

During awards season, admission for members of the Malibu Film Society and members of industry guilds is free.

Membership is available to anyone, at two possible tiers: $180 or $250, which includes entry into the Malibu Filmmaker of the Year Awards and the Academy Awards viewing party.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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