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Old February 23 2011, 08:31 AM   #1
Gaith
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Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

On 1/24, Christopher Hitchens had this to say of The King's Speech:
The King's Speech 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.
Since then, the film's writer objected to Hitchens' piece, and in so doing, Hitchens writes, also
part-whitewashes and part-airbrushes the consistent support of Buckingham Palace for Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain and their unceasing attempt to make an agreement with Hitler that would allow him a free hand in Europe while preserving the British Empire.
Hitch's conclusion?
In giving this recent interview, then, David Seidler has gone far beyond the original misrepresentation and falsification that lie at the heart of the film and has become a propagandist for the Munich faction. As I wrote originally, The King's Speech is an excellently made movie that features (with the awful exception of Timothy Spall's Churchill) generally first-rate acting. Oscars should go to those who entertain and amuse. But if the academy gives an award to Seidler, a man who absurdly fancies himself subject to persecution when confronted with the historical record, it will have conferred approval on something, and someone, extremely shabby.
I haven't yet seen the movie, but Hitch's two pieces on its veracity make a compelling case for seriously midleading history. Of course, The Social Network, my current Best Film of '10 (narrowly ahead of The Ghost Writer), was also full of factual errors, but it strikes me as there are important differences, namely:

1) Sorkin admits that his screenplay isn't historically accurate in all sorts of respects,
2) Fincher's direction is (I gather) much more overtly stylized than TKS', and
3) The real Mark Zuckerberg didn't order the mass bombing of civilians or the starving of huge swaths of India, which strikes me as a slight difference in scale.

Now, I think TSN should have carried a factual disclaimer, as does one of my favorite movies, Oliver Stone's biopic Nixon. When the known facts are stuck to pretty faithfully, as with Fincher's Zodiac, that becomes less important. And I'm sure I'll enjoy TSK (which I assume doesn't have such a disclaimer) when I get around to Netflixing it. But it's one thing to take cheap shots at a software-genius billionaire, and it's another thing to revere and beatify unelected and elected officials who, if Hitchens is correct, caused unnecessary deaths by kowtowing to Hitler.

What say you all? Should Seidler win Best Original Screenplay? Your other choices are Another Year – Mike Leigh, The Fighter – Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson, Inception – Christopher Nolan, and The Kids Are All Right – Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg. (Sorkin's up for Adapted Screenplay, which he'll surely win.) I've got no favorites from amongst the others...

... But, after reading all this, I will be mildly annoyed if TKS beats TSN for the gold.

Last edited by Gaith; February 23 2011 at 09:04 AM. Reason: typo
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Old February 23 2011, 08:33 AM   #2
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Re: Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

you mean TKS not TSK surely?
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Old February 23 2011, 08:51 AM   #3
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Re: Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

I think Hitchens overstates his case about whether or not Chamberlain's actions truly aided Nazi Germany. There's a genuine debate in academia and historian circles about whether or not he needed to buy time in order to get Britain re-armed, and I think Hitchens does himself a disservice by glossing over that debate.

Having said that, his argument that the film is dishonest about what kind of person King George really was with regards to the Nazis & Hitler and his unconstitutional endorsement of Chamberlain's politics before Parliament had even had a chance to review them, and about what kind of person Churchill was (portraying Churchill as supporting Prince Albert when he did no such thing), is a very strong and compelling argument.

Ultimately, mind you, I don't think that Prince Albert/King George was a bad person. Nor Churchill... to a point, anyway. And I certainly don't think The King's Speech is a bad film.

But I do think that there's something wrong about a historical film dishonestly depicting its subjects' moral choices just to bring them in line with modern ideas about what was or was not the right thing to do back then.
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Old February 23 2011, 04:56 PM   #4
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Re: Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

As I understand it, King Bertie wrote a letter late in 1939 expressing the hope that no more 'refugees' from Germany - translation: Jews - would be allowed into England. Funny that also was omitted from the movie.

There has also been a claim by the family of a David Martin, a sound technician working for the BBC, that he was directed by the BBC to painstakingly remove all stutters and stammers from the said speech, so that it sounded fluid. This would not have been quite the easy task it is in this digital age.
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Old February 23 2011, 06:14 PM   #5
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Re: Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

I'm an historian whose primary interests include Churchill, the monarchy, and appeasement (neoconservatives' interpretations of Munich's lesson was the topic of my MA paper), and I think Hitchens massively overstates things in a number of respects.

Firstly, as a film, the appeasement stuff is peripheral; 98% of the running time occurs prior to the coronation in 1937. It more or less skips over Chamberlain's tenure directly to September 3, 1939. So whatever it does, it does not hugely impact the film significantly.

The film does depict George VI as being concerned by the rise of German power, but I don't think it ever contradicts his lack of interest in another war. They do alter his relationship with Churchill, but the most likely motive for that is that the writer wanted a few Churchill cameos (and he's got like, two scenes prior to the outbreak of war, so, again, not a big part of the film).
Captaindemotion wrote: View Post
As I understand it, King Bertie wrote a letter late in 1939 expressing the hope that no more 'refugees' from Germany - translation: Jews - would be allowed into England. Funny that also was omitted from the movie.
David Seidler is a Jew whose grandparents died in the Holocaust, so I would be skeptical that he's out to cover up anti-Semitism.
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Old February 23 2011, 06:22 PM   #6
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Re: Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

I don't approach films as a real historian, but as a literary critic, which gives me a wider range of possible responses: accuracy is not my main criterion, but what the text is doing with history for its creator and for its audience. Oddly, this would put me in a position where I need to display some concern with The King's Speech, which plays into Britain's myth of unity in the face of the Nazi threat while whitewashing some terrible opinions within the royal family. This film continues a myth which allows a certain group to pretend its hands were entirely clean; at the same time, I'm a little more concerned with the film's depiction of disability, with a speech impediment constructed as something which must be overcome so that the social body of the nation doesn't fragment.

So, I guess I'm with Hitchens. That being said, a film shouldn't have to be perfect or socially responsible or accurate or anything else but itself. If people choose to get their history from film, that's probably a bigger issue - no film can be accurate by definition: it's a different medium, it's hugely compressed, etc. Accuracy is a chimera.
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Old February 23 2011, 06:26 PM   #7
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Re: Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

Derishton wrote: View Post
at the same time, I'm a little more concerned with the film's depiction of disability, with a speech impediment constructed as something which must be overcome so that the social body of the nation doesn't fragment.
Er, what?

Particularly given that the screenwriter himself suffered from a stammer, I thought the film's handling of it was quite strong. It was played seriously instead of as a joke (though they got some humour out of it), and it was something he learned to work through and live with rather than magically got rid of.
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Old February 23 2011, 06:33 PM   #8
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Re: Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

I'm interested in disability theory, so I'm not concerned in the sense of being anxious, but in the sense of being interested. One aspect of disability theory is the social argument that people with notable differences have to accommodate themselves to society, and when that person is the king, the need for him to sound "normal" is interesting. In other words, the "working through" the stammer is as important or more important to the listener, who is made uncomfortable by signs of difference (especially at a key historical moment when clarity and a sense of strength has to be present in the speech). Again, I find it interesting, not objectionable.

I'm also definitely not making a claim about this aspect of the film, because I haven't seen it yet - only that the issue is one I'd be looking for as a viewer.
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Old February 23 2011, 07:02 PM   #9
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Re: Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

The King's Speech was an entertaining film. That's all I care about.
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Old February 23 2011, 07:49 PM   #10
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Re: Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

The film's depiction of Bertie needing to overcome his speech therapy to galvanize a nation was just one aspect of the film. It was more or less that he realized that he needed to do it for himself and the impact and weight of what a war time speech weighed heavily on him. I think the film touched on these aspects in a very respectful way with just the right amount of drama enough to convey the political situation.
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Old February 23 2011, 09:33 PM   #11
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Re: Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

CaptainCanada wrote: View Post
Captaindemotion wrote: View Post
As I understand it, King Bertie wrote a letter late in 1939 expressing the hope that no more 'refugees' from Germany - translation: Jews - would be allowed into England. Funny that also was omitted from the movie.
David Seidler is a Jew whose grandparents died in the Holocaust, so I would be skeptical that he's out to cover up anti-Semitism.
Don't remember accusing him of 'being out to' do anything but maybe you'd look at this:

http://thejc.com/blogpost/king-georg...%80%99s-neck-0

or this

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2...uk.queenmother
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Old February 23 2011, 09:39 PM   #12
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Re: Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

Personally I'm just fed up with the bloody thing, getting a *third* run at our single-screen cinema, which means we can't have *any* other fucking movie for weeks...
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Old February 24 2011, 04:21 PM   #13
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Re: Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

Hitch is a brilliant man (and I will miss him when he goes) but I think he goes a little overboard here. Anyone with a modicum of sense knows that films do not accurately depict historic events - they use them as a context for whatever dramatic point they are trying to make. As pointed out, Albert's battle, as shown in the film, was with himself, within the context of the impending conflagration that would be WW II. Was Albert a great guy? Probably not, but does it matter within the scope of the film? It wanted to portray royals as human beings, and show that even the priviledged can face challenges. The fact that the disability may have been caused by abuse is something Albert has to face and overcome - not because he has to "fit in", but because, as a symbol, he has to deal with expectations. Does his opinions about the war, or his relationship or feelings about Chamberlain, or Churchill, or the war, or Jewish refugees matter in the enviornment of this movie? I don't think so. Maybe that could be explored in another film.
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Old February 24 2011, 05:04 PM   #14
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Re: Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

Derishton wrote: View Post
I don't approach films as a real historian, but as a literary critic, which gives me a wider range of possible responses: accuracy is not my main criterion, but what the text is doing with history for its creator and for its audience. Oddly, this would put me in a position where I need to display some concern with The King's Speech, which plays into Britain's myth of unity in the face of the Nazi threat while whitewashing some terrible opinions within the royal family. This film continues a myth which allows a certain group to pretend its hands were entirely clean; at the same time, I'm a little more concerned with the film's depiction of disability, with a speech impediment constructed as something which must be overcome so that the social body of the nation doesn't fragment.

So, I guess I'm with Hitchens. That being said, a film shouldn't have to be perfect or socially responsible or accurate or anything else but itself. If people choose to get their history from film, that's probably a bigger issue - no film can be accurate by definition: it's a different medium, it's hugely compressed, etc. Accuracy is a chimera.
siskokid888 wrote: View Post
Hitch is a brilliant man (and I will miss him when he goes) but I think he goes a little overboard here. Anyone with a modicum of sense knows that films do not accurately depict historic events - they use them as a context for whatever dramatic point they are trying to make. As pointed out, Albert's battle, as shown in the film, was with himself, within the context of the impending conflagration that would be WW II. Was Albert a great guy? Probably not, but does it matter within the scope of the film? It wanted to portray royals as human beings, and show that even the priviledged can face challenges. The fact that the disability may have been caused by abuse is something Albert has to face and overcome - not because he has to "fit in", but because, as a symbol, he has to deal with expectations. Does his opinions about the war, or his relationship or feelings about Chamberlain, or Churchill, or the war, or Jewish refugees matter in the enviornment of this movie? I don't think so. Maybe that could be explored in another film.
I can see both sides of the argument here, but overall, I do tend towards Derishton's point. I think it's a question of balance and of degree.

If, for example, you make a movie about, for the sake of argument, Oswald Mosley and you show his concern for the working classes in the 1920s and his quite brave interventions in the House of Commons on behalf of Irish Nationalists against outrages carried out by the black & tans etc, that would certainly be accurate and would show the positive (IMHO) contributions he made to politics.

Yet if you omitted to show the blackshirts, the pogroms, the race-baiting speeches and the dalliances with Hitler, then you would have made a very misleading and distorted movie. You may not be expected to show every aspect of Mosley's life and career but you'd sure as hell be expected to show the major ones!
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Old February 24 2011, 07:09 PM   #15
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Re: Christopher Hitchens vs. "King's Speech" writer: beat-down!

^Agreed, if you are making a film about Mosley's public actions and their results. However, if you are making a film about him overcoming some personal demon or problem, then maybe those things may not be as important. But your point is well taken.
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