This week we’re studying the “I Have a Voice” scene from the film, The King’s Speech, which starts about one hour, twenty-three minutes into the film, and runs for eight minutes. The movie was released in 2010 and won Oscars for best picture, best actor, and best screenplay. It was directed by Tom Hooper from a screenplay by David Seidler.
We’re focusing on scenes this season because scenes are the basic building blocks of story. To be able to write a story that works, you must be able to write a scene that works. And we’re using stories that already appear somewhere in the Story Grid Universe. The scene we’re discussing today was discussed in the Story Grid Guild. Of course, we have some new insights, so don’t worry that you’ll have heard it all before.
GENRE AND THREE-ACT SUMMARY
Genre: Performance with Status Sentimental
- Beginning Hook – During his speech at the closing ceremonies of the Empire Exhibition in 1925, the Duke of York falters because of his stammer, and initial efforts to treat his stammer fail, but when speech therapist Lionel Logue shows him that he doesn’t stammer when listening to music, the Duke must decide whether to sacrifice his pride and comfort to pursue treatment. He negotiates with Logue, and treatment begins.
- Middle Build – King George V dies, and the Duke’s older brother David soon abdicates the throne, making it all the more necessary that the new King George the VI overcome his stammer, but after insisting that Logue attend the coronation where his family will be seated, he learns that Logue is not a doctor or trained in speech therapy and must decide whether to continue his treatment. Logue goads George VI into declaring that he has a voice and explains that his perseverance and courage will make him a great king. The king performs his brief portions of the coronation without a problem.
- Ending Payoff – Britain declares war on Germany, and George VI must deliver a nine-minute speech to the nation, the importance of which is related to the role of the monarch as one who speaks for the people, and when the time comes to speak and Logue tells him to say the speech to him as a friend, the king delivers an almost flawless performance. In contrast to the disappointing looks from the inciting incident performance, everyone outside the recording booth cheers the king after he finishes.
You can find the Roundtable episode here.
ANALYZING THE SCENE
- Editor’s Scene Type – What function does this scene serve in the story? This scene takes place toward the end of the middle build, and represents the climax and resolution of the act.
- Writer’s Scene Type – What kind of scene is this? Yes, it’s another two-person scene in which a truth comes out, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a Poke the Bear scene. Lionel is evoking Bertie’s shadow for his own good.
- What does this scene type accomplish within the context of the novel as a whole? This is a huge part of the plot, and of Bertie’s character reveal. It takes place right before his Coronation and shows him finally stepping into the role of King; finally owning his voice/stepping into his power.
- How many people are in the scene? Two
- Where does the scene take place (location)? Westminster Abbey
- What is the power dynamic at play in this scene? When the scene begins, Bertie has ironically abdicated his power to those around him. He’s throwing a pity party and Logue isn’t having it. He poke’s Bertie’s shadow in an attempt to get him to reclaim his power and to make him wear it. By the end of the scene, Bertie speaks up against the Archbishop finally using his voice.
Logue has the power at the outset because Bertie refuses to accept it. The way he gets Bertie to accept the power that is being given him, is to evoke his shadow side.
- What is the point of conflict, and how does that relate to the characters’ objects of desire? Bertie and Logue begin by arguing about Logue’s lack of credentials. Bertie is full of self-pity and is trying to blame Logue for it. That’s the literal action. The essential action here, and what this scene is really about, is that Logue is trying to get Bertie to take the power in the scene; to step into his power/voice and own it, and not to abdicate it (figuratively) as David did (literally).
When we analyze a scene we need to answer four story event questions, and identify the five commandments of storytelling. These are covered in detail in Story Grid 101 which is available as a free download from the Story Grid website.
Story Event Questions
1. What are the characters literally doing—that is, what are their micro on-the-ground actions?
Bertie and Lionel are having a conversation.
2. What is the essential tactic of the characters—that is, what macro behaviours are they employing that are linked to a universal human value?
Bertie wants to confront Lionel, but underneath that he also wants to get someone to give him some respect (he’s just come off a loss in this area). Lionel wants to empower Bertie, but also put him at ease.
3. What universal human values have changed for one or more characters in the scene? Which one of those value changes is most important and should be included in the Story Grid Spreadsheet?
Bertie goes from unheard to heard (Bertie’s advisors told him what to do; Lionel listened to what Bertie had to say), agency-deprived to empowered (advisors telling him what to do to telling advisors what to do, and ashamed (because he he didn’t know Lionel didn’t have official credentials) to respected by self (because he stood up and spoke up for himself) and second party (Lionel respects him for speaking up).
Logue doesn’t really change, though the behavior he uses to attain what he wants does.
When there are several changes occurring within a scene, we highlight the human value that best aligns with the core value. The King’s Speech is a global Performance Story, so the core value is Respect, with a spectrum that encomapsses respected publicly but self-ashamed to ashamed to flawed to Respect.
So we would enter Ashamed to Respected by self and second party in the spreadsheet.
4. What is the Story Event that sums up the scene’s on-the-ground actions, essential tactics, and value change? We will enter that event in the Story Grid Spreadsheet.
When Lionel provokes Bertie by showing a lack of respect in Westminster Cathedral, Bertie chooses to speak up for himself as king.
Five Commandments of Storytelling
Inciting Incident: Bertie confronts Logue about his credentials.
Progressive Complications (and how they escalate the stakes):
- Bertie acknowledges that he assumed Lionel’s credentials: Bertie begins his pity party and in doing so, begins to move further from his power/his voice. He’s using his voice for the wrong reason.
- Lionel said he heard Bertie at Wembley: Bertie interprets this as Logue looking for a star client
- Bertie has a team of advisors breathing down his neck and he’s vouched for Lionel: Bertie looks like a fool to the archbishop and others for not vetting Logue more thoroughly
- Bertie says he’d like to charge Logue with fraud and lock him in the tower: this gets Lionel’s back up – he’s had enough of the pity party and blame game. This is a turning point for Logue. He’s tried to appeal to Bertie with a mature dialogue. Now he’s got to poke the bear; play a game to snap Bertie out of it.
Turning Point Progressive Complication: Logue sits in St. Edward’s chair and in doing so, disrespects King George VI and all the kings who have come before him.
Crisis: Will Bertie speak up or not? That is, will he confront his stammer or allow a commoner to disrespect the monarchy.
Climax: Bertie confronts Lional and demands, as king, to be heard. In doing so, Bertie “owns” his voice, claims his power and steps into the role of monarch. He puts the archbishop in his place.
Resolution: Bertie and Logue review the Coronation.
WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT THIS SCENE?
Leslie: This scene is a mini-Performance story in its own right as Bertie speaks up on the interpersonal level. (Later in the film, we see Bertie speaking up for his tribe). Bertie (as presented in the story, as a character).
Bertie is willing to simply endure as an individual. If his brother hadn’t abdicated, Bertie might have continued suffering quiet indignities his whole life, never feeling heard, and never speaking up. It is only because his nation is threatened and he must lead that he confronts his trauma—that is his line in the sand. Knowing Bertie because he’s listened to him, Lionel realizes he must appeal to this value in order to nudge Bertie to speak up. Even people with the appearance of power can have their agency hijacked by others.
This scene demonstrates a great technique for showing the power hierarchies at work in the story’s setting. Notice the difference between the way Lionel and the archbishop address Bertie. Lionel addresses Bertie informally but as an equal and with respect; the archbishop addresses Bertie formally, as sovereign deprived of agency, with a lack of respect.
We see these differences in the way the value shift is played out in this scene: the archbishop respects the office while Lionel respects Bertie as a human being.
Notice the repetition of certain motifs in the scene that echo the ideas of performance and power: rehearse, how you wish to be called, equal footing, trust, help, unable to speak, speech stuff, listening, faith, voice, friend, breathing down my neck, training, certificate, qualifications, experience, fraud, voiceless, happiness, assist, mad King George III, letting people down, trivializing, listen to me, I have a voice, bravest man I know, consult and be advised.
Valerie: There are so many things I could highlight here. It’s an excellent example of the expression of theme. I recommend Steven Pressfield’s blog for information on how to express a theme in a story.
Amazing Dialogue: What makes great dialogue? It’s not because the lines are snappy (although they are in this case), it’s because they’re on theme and they reveal character. It’s because they are inciting Bertie to self-awareness and self-actualization.
The Many Faces of Logue: Logue is ultimately a mentor figure, but he’s also very much a friend to the King; that point is driven home throughout the film. In this scene he also becomes Bertie’s shadow; he has to. Bertie isn’t listening to reason, he isn’t stepping into his power, so Logue has to become his shadow in order to show him how childish, ridiculous and irresponsible he’s being. Logue is a mirror, and as such, he’s poking Bertie’s shadow and eventually gets Bertie to snap out of it and fulfill his potential. Bertie self-actualizes.
Leslie: This is a picture perfect scene in every respect, but the word choice here is simply excellent, and not one word is wasted—in a story about speaking up and being heard, you really want to choose your words carefully. They beautifully set up the conflict, show what’s at stake, show the value shift, and help us relate to a place and time very different from our own. This is a late-stage editing concern, but something not to miss as you reach the end of your journey.
Lead: It’s hard to narrow down one key takeaway here. The more I watch this film, the better it gets. We talk about the importance of reading widely and deeply, and of course that’s essential. If you want to be an author of books, you’ve got to read books. But it’s important to consume stories in all formats because you never know where inspiration will come from or when your knowledge of story will deepen.
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