Wednesday, February 23, 2011

King Me

With The King's Speech poised to win major Oscar, some are coming out to state certain imperfections.  Most notable is Christopher Hitchens in Slate, who points out historical errors and omissions. (Then there's Katherine Preston in Salon, noting it gets the pathology of stuttering wrong.)

I've always had problems with films based on actual incidents, since they're just excuses to lie while getting extra credit for telling the truth. (And when the story is boring, you can also say "hey, that's how it happened.") The only solution is to treat all non-documentaries as entirely fictional.

So lord help us if we learn history from movies, but there's no point in complaining, as Hitchens does, that The King's Speech didn't properly explain actual facts.  Screenwriter David Seidler has noted certain scenes that had historical information Hitchen's refers to were cut because they made the film drag, but Hitchens says that's no excuse--write the scene so that it doesn't drag.  That's not how it works.  When you start with an historical story, you have a ton of material.  With each draft, interesting and even important but non-essential information falls away.  During production and editing, this happens even faster--scenes that don't feed the main story and characters kill momentum.

If Hitchens wants to tell us what the film missed, or got wrong, fine.  But while that would be a serious criticism of an historical volume, it doesn't say much about The King's Speech as art or entertainment.


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