Saturday, January 29, 2011

The King's Speech

A host of historians and journalists have sounded off on historical inaccuracies in director Tom Hooper's King's Speech.  This is no surprise as historians and nitpickers alike are notorious for ruining a good film.  The work of R.A. Rosenstone suggests that some historians are coming around to examining film as a different medium, requiring different methodology and criticism.  In 1988, Hayden White coined the term "HISTORIOPHOTY" to describe "the representation of history and our thought about it in visual images and filmic discourse."  This is to say that films are inherently different than text-based history, and demand a different mode of criticism and methodology.

In my humble opinion, the story of the King's Speech is much more about the emotional and psychological problems of George VI, than the abdication crisis or the transition from appeasement to the declaration of war which most critics focus upon.  The film speaks to the emergent
role of radio in the longstanding relationship between the English people and their monarch.

This being said, historical debate around the film gets people thinking about the broader issues on the periphery of the plot. Lee Ruddin seems to have some solid suggestions when noting the lack of F.D.R. in the film, who was apparently a great friend and psychological aid to George VI in overcoming his impediment.
George VI and Franklin D. Roosevelt had a close relationship not touched upon in the King's Speech
Ruddin also notes that the portrayal of Churchill as George's confident is off-kilter as well, given that this greatest of the British Bulldogs (in appearance and influence?) stood by Edward during the abdication crisis long after it was politically wise.  Christopher Hitchens, agrees with a poor portrayal of Churchill, and notes the unprecedented support for Chamberlain and appeasement given by the monarchy during the period is glossed over by the film.

Edward VIII's Nazi Sympathies are another omission criticized.
We Canadians rail our familiar refrain over the film: "More Canadian Content!" It has been noted that George's Empire Day speech during the Spring 1939 Royal Tour in Winnipeg was devoid of stuttering, thus disrupting the timeline suggested by the film, and the importance it places on the King's first speech after the declaration of war.  Christopher Moore appears to agree with suggestions that the King's diction had improved some time prior to the climactic September 1939 speech.  A recording of the speech featured in the film is found here.

CBC Archives has some material featuring King George VI speaking.  His December 1939 Christmas speech is featured and a whole section features the visit of the royal family to Canada in 1939.  The cultural display and contact (not to mention some good ol' fashioned racism) when the royals met with various Southern Alberta Native tribes near Calgary's Mewata armoury made a fascinating audio bite.

King George VI; Queen Elizabeth; Duck Chief, head chief of the Blackfoot; George H. Gooderham in back, Blackfoot agent. Blackfoot child hand in hand with Queen Elizabeth.  Photo Ludson. Glenbow Archives.
For more info on historians and filmic history see:

Robert A Rosenstone, “Does a Filmic Writing of History Exist?” Review of Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vicon. By Natlie Semon Daivs. Cambridge, Mass.:Harvard University Press, 2000. from History and Theory, Theme Issue 41 (December 2002), 134-144.

R. A. Rosenstone. History on Film/Film on History  Harlow: Pearson Education, 2006.

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