After the Tom Hooper-directed Colin Firth-Geoffrey Rush film The King’s Speech came out of Toronto with strong Oscar buzz, United Talent Agency swooped in to sign the pic’s writer, David Seidler. It’s not unusual for the scribes of Oscar-bait film to get snapped up by major agencies. But Seidler is no flash in the pan. He’s 73 years old, and the effort to make the film dates back to before many of today’s top screenwriters were born. His script –covering King George VI’s race to overcome a stutter so he could rally his subjects in radio broadcasts as England fought Hitler’s invading forces in WWII–was subject matter that is woven through Seidler’s own life. While an eloquent speaker now, Seidler developed a debilitating childhood stutter he attributes to the shock of those early days of WWII. “I was a profound stutterer as a kid, and though we relocated to the US after the Battle of Dunkirk, it was the trauma of hearing the guns and bombs from that battle that triggered it. I could barely talk at times, but as the war progressed, we were allowed to listen to the radio and the King of England. He spoke badly, but I thought my goodness, if a king can be brave enough to speak like that on the radio, maybe there’s hope for me. He was always a hero to me.”
Years later, after Seidler finished the 1988 Francis Coppola-directed Tucker: The Man and His Dream, he began researching King George VI and stumbled upon Lionel Logue, the Australian speech therapist who helped the king conquer his stutter. Things were moving on a fast track after he located Logue’s son, Valentine, by then a retired brain surgeon. “He said, ‘come to London, I’d love to talk with you, and I have all the notebooks my father kept of working with the King of England,’” Seidler told me. “But he added, before any of this can happen, you must get written permission from the Queen Mother.” Seidler went through the proper channels, and the reply stopped him in his tracks. “I was told that she’d said, ‘Please, not in my lifetime. The memory of those events are still too painful.’ An American writer might have said to hell with it, but I hold two passports and like a good Brit, I agreed to wait. How long could it take? Well it wasn’t until 28 years later that she left us.”
By then, Logue’s son had passed away and Seidler wrote his script without the notebooks–though he got a look at them just before the picture went into production and made a couple of revisions. After writing the script, Seidler turned it into a stage play, and Hooper’s parents happened to attend a reading. They asked if they could share it with their son, but he was so busy working on the HBO miniseries John Adams, that he didn’t read it for months. “One day he shows up at my door, waving the script and calling it the best he’d been given in his life. “He said, if in two weeks we were in production on this script, I’d sleep well,” Seidler said. “Of course, we went through about 50 drafts after that.”
After waiting nearly three decades, Seidler was willing to put in the work. During those years, he wrote a lot of TV, but also served a stint in the 60s writing propaganda for the prime minister of Fiji, and was one of the authors of its constitution. “There three military coups, and so that document was redone three times by different people,” Seidler said. “So I’m used to the concept of rewriting, but was glad that on The King’s Speech, I was the one doing the rewrites.” He continues with longtime manager Jeff Aghassi.