In defense of 'The King's Speech'.
Now that The King's Speech is the prohibitive favorite to win Oscar best-picture glory, the attacks on the film have begun in earnest.
I came away from the movie thinking it a wonderfully told story of a relationship between a man with a disability and a newfound friend who helped him overcome it. Period.
Christopher Hitchens, who tried his best to convince the world that Kissinger is a war criminal to no avail, has laid into The King's Speech as only he can - with a battering ram, wrecking ball and barrel of acid. You would think in HItch's obsession with historical inaccuracies in The King's Speech that the film is as dangerous and execrable as D.W. Griffth's The Birth of a Nation.
Hitchens reminds us of what many filmgoers would have known going into the cinema, that George VI's older brother, Edward VIII, was a quasi-Nazi (to put it charitably). And that Churchill did himself no favors arguing behind the scenes for Edward VIII's continuance on the throne after the nascent monarch had committed to marriage with a foreign, commoner divorcee, Wallis Warfield Simpson. This would rank among Winnie's many significant errors of judgment, along with Gallipoli, Dieppe and Churchill's fixation with colonial India - as any Churchill student would know.
Where the critics themselves err is in neglecting the historical context. Churchill's impotence in having his warnings about Hitler go unheeded until just months before the Battle of Britain derived far less from his ill-advised patronage of Edward VIII, than from his stubborn and very public insistence that Britian cling to India as a vassal state that the Exchequer could simply no longer afford. Long after its parting with Canada and Australasia, India alone remained as a gigantic colonial outpost in a 20th-century om which anti-colonialism was a defining theme.
So hidebound and overtly jingoistic was Churchill on this point - one that he made at public halls across England for most of the 1930s - that the British intelligensia had written Winnie off as something of a loonie in the years when storm clouds gathered over the Continent.
Detractors of The King's Speech who obsess over accuracy also err in declining to note that, in both the U.K. and America, the prospect of a second world war so soon after the catastrophic "war to end all wars," which claimed an unprecedented 8 million lives, was profoundly unpopular. Thus Chamberlain was greeted as a hero on return from his Munich capitulation. And it wasn't at all odd - though Hitchens would have it otherwise - that George VI would shower Chamberlain with public praise. For that matter, even the 1936 abdication was greeted on both sides of the pond more as a riveting entertainment than a crisis for the Church of England, British parliamentary tradition and the legitimacy of the House of Windsor. How romantic that a king would forsake the throne "for the woman he loved."
The King's Speech is true, if not entirely accurate. And that so often is the case with superb storytelling. The film isn't, nor was meant to be, a Barbara Tuchman tour-de-force on the folly of man stumbling into a war, this time a conflict that would take more than 50 million lives.
In watching and listening to George VI open the 1938 Empire Exhibition at Ibrox Park, Glasgow, one can see the truth of how greatly improved his oratory had become thanks to his work with his pioneering speech-therapist friend from Australia. And it occurs to me that, in best serving the King, his speechwriters should have kept George VI's addresses to about four minutes' length. It's a bit unnerving, I must say as an occasional public speaker myself, to talk at length without interruption by applause or appreciative laughter. One's confidence soon enough erodes, and the quality of the oratory with it. But as in a house of worship, where one does not applaud even the most compelling sermon or eulogy (the African-American church excepted), it was not the done thing to show appreciation for The King's Speech. Though on Oscar night, an exception might be made.
The King's Speech: Let the backlash begin. (L.A. Times)