Tuesday, February 1, 2011

'The King's Speech' challenged for historical accuracy

[Photo: The Weinstein Company].

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'The King's Speech' challenged for historical accuracy -- The cast of The King's Speech won the SAG Award Sunday evening for Outstanding Performance for a Cast in a Motion Picture. The film also won a Golden Globe for Best Picture just last week. Colin Firth, who plays stuttering King George VI in the film, has won both the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role and the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture -- Drama.

Many moviegoers expect that these accolades are forerunners for both the film and Mr. Firth to win Academy Awards at the ceremony scheduled for February 27, 2011. Screenwriter, David Seidler, is said to have kept the story close to historically accurate, since he had a high regard for the king and had a speech impediment himself. He even waited to see his script through out of respect for the Queen Mother's wishes until she passed away.

Writing today at Slate.com, British analyst Christopher Hitchens states that the movie "is an extremely well-made film with a seductive human interest plot, very prettily calculated to appeal to the smarter filmgoer and the latent Anglophile. But it perpetrates a gross falsification of history."

Mr. Hitchens's complaints appear to center around the characterization of Winston Churchill in the film. He not only says that the character is miscast with Timothy Spall, who creates a "woefully thin pastiche" of Churchill, but he is mostly unhappy with the way Churchill is portrayed as a loyal friend to King George VI when he was actually, to Hitchens's reading of history (he cites the Churchill biography by William Manchester, The Last Lion), a "consistent friend of conceited, spoiled, Hitler-sympathesizing" Edward VIII.

One of the questions observers may ask is -- well, ok, but so what?

Is Hollywood responsible for "historical accuracy" in a story about historical figures? Where does creative license come in to tell a good story? How much creative license should be "allowed" before a screenwriter must announce that the film plays loose and fast with the facts?

The same problem might be cited for another Oscar favorite this year -- The Social Network. While the film is based on an account by Ben Mezrich who claims to be present for part of what happened in the early days of Facebook's creation, lately the screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, has seemed to backtrack in his indictment of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. In his acceptance speech for the Golden Globe, for example, Mr. Sorkin basically said that Zuckerberg has proven to be more generous and kind than he evidently previously thought. Does it take away from The Social Network as a film if Mark Zuckerberg, the real guy, is not quite the selfish, mean-spirited character the film makes him out to be?

Comment below: What are your thoughts on "historical accuracy" in film and in The King's Speech, in particular? Is it ok to "play loose" with the facts if the filmmakers do not pretend to make a documentary or say that all events and characters in the film are portrayed with historical accuracy? Do audiences need to take historical accuracy in a commercial film with a grain of salt, no matter what the filmmakers say?