All in a Face

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou

Last night, our daughter suggested that her mother and I join her in watching The King’s Speech, one of our family’s favorite films. A scene (one of many) in the film defies description. I am going to attempt to decipher its effects on me.

King George VI of the United Kingdom has just given the famous address to his subjects as World War II is commencing, having done so beautifully conducted by Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who liberated him from the life-long prison of a terrible speech impediment. The whole plot has moved to this moment of trial and triumph for the king, to which he has ascended through enticement of the inner voice by Logue and his acrobatic, graceful, sometimes scandalous techniques.

Having made a historic and monumentally important delivery, George (or “Bertie,” the title reserved for blood kin and Logue) entered a room full of relieved and adoring statesmen, family members and advisers a changed man, appearing regal and confident for the first time in the film, already having fought what may have been the most important battle of his reign: that over his own pain, fear and associated disability.

As the light of glory supported the statuesque monarch amidst the admiration of his associates, the camera panned to Logue at his position in the wings. It is this epilogue that I find to be the most moving scene of the story.

Enfleshed in the face of Logue (played brilliantly by Geoffrey Rush) is expressed a most honored and humbling realization that teachers, mentors and parents have described to me, and that I, myself, have experienced. A voice instructor of mine said it best: “My job is to help you to find your true voice,” recounting the pride and gratitude that comes from knowing one has played a role in that discovery for a student.

The skill, humanity, and passion with which Rush displayed and communicated those emotions that Logue must have experienced are awe-inspiring, at least for me. Looking deeply into the actor’s face, however, so much more was to be found. Joy was there, to be sure, but tempered and tamed; a settled rest at the end of a struggle, experienced in a heart that has gone no short distance along the painful, yet valiant journey of a traumatized child crying in staccato bursts through cracks in the frightened, frustrated, stuttering façade of a man.

I am thankful to have experienced that moment in the film, to have seen the light in Logue’s face, moonlight to Bertie’s sun, from the quiet conductor of a stirring concert of speech that bolstered the confidence of thousands, sharing hope and courage from one who may have discovered those qualities in himself through the efforts of an unlikely teacher to a king – one who believed in his pupil – who had heard the still-hidden voice and knew it could sing.

Ironically, then, the most powerful message of the film was communicated entirely without words.

For stories worth retelling, for teachers with the skills and desire to bring out the best in others, for artists who possess the gift of communication, and for the incredible power of human perception, I am grateful, today.

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