As Oscar time approaches, all the contenders come under at least a little extra scrutiny or criticism.
Everybody’s got something to say about "Social Network," "True Grit," "Toy Story 3" and not all of it is good.
What’s unusual about the recent flap involving "The King’s Speech," one of the frontrunners for Best Picture, is who’s doing the snipping; Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens’ turf is world politics not entertainment. He usually writes about terrorism, war, diplomacy and international law.
So it was a little surprising to see his article in Slate last month taking "King’s Speech" to task.
Hitchens pointed out that Winston Churchill was a staunch supporter of King Edward, not a secret ally of the stuttering Bertie. He also pointed out that Betie gave Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace in Our Time” treaty some serious backing. These facts aren’t in argument. They’re a matter of historical record.
The screenwriter, David Seidler, defended his work in an interview by Patricia Zohn on Huffington Post. And Hitchens recently countered again on Slate.
Hitchens’ original criticism is a little nitpicky.
Churchill is barely in the story. And while it is implied that Bertie is against Hitler in the movie, he’s not a fiery determined anti-fascist, either. There’s more historical rewriting in "Patton orAmadeus."
And besides, the focus isn’t really on the war or Hitler, it’s on the relationship between the soon-to-be-king and his speech pathologist.
The war is really just background.
The “speech” that the story builds up to in the end is more of a personal triumph than anything else.
Yes, it is portrayed as inspirational, but in reality Churchill’s speeches were far more important to England’s survival.
And Churchill’s decisions as prime minister were far more important than any of his speeches. To its credit, the film does point out that the king was little more than a figurehead in these matters.
But maybe that’s why Seidler was so prickly in his defense.
"The King’s Speech" takes place during one of the greatest struggles in human history, but it isn’t actually about that struggle.
It’s a personal story about friendship and overcoming a malady. But critics tend to award extra points to a movie connected to great moments in history. And the ad and Oscar campaigns did play up the importance of the time period.
It’s just idle speculation, but suppose for a moment that the story took place in the 1920s well before the rise of Hitler. It could have, very easily.
Bertie’s father could have died then and his brother would probably have thrown away the crown just as quickly.
The meat of the story would have remained the same.
It would have been Lionel and Bertie and the impending coronation ceremony. But there’d be no barrage balloons, no footage of Hitler.
Would the film still be getting the same accolades? I think it would be recognized as a great film, but would it still be an Oscar front runner? Maybe.