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'The King's Speech': Let the backlash begin [update]

January 31, 2011 |  1:26 pm

With Christopher Hitchens' essay in Slate exposing inaccuracies in "The King's Speech" and the newsreel uncovered by the History Channel showing King George VI stammering less severely than in the movie at a Scottish exhibition, the backlash against the beloved British film has begun. It's not clear if these are dirty tricks by rival Oscar campaigners — it's a stretch to think Hitchens is that malleable. Regardless, the exposé of inaccuracies seems to be the curse of most biopics that vie for award recognition.

[Update: Geoffrey Rush addresses the criticism being waged upon “The King’s Speech” in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. He explains that in the original script there were more scenes dealing with Winston Churchill’s complex relationship with the Nazi sympathizer Edward VIII, but they were cut so the film would rest more squarely on the relationship between King George VI and speech therapist Lionel Logue.]

In some cases, as with 1999's "The Hurricane," the attacks against the film can torpedo a campaign. Even if that doesn’t occur, producers and marketers must address the issue of accuracy continually when their film features a historical figure of any era. Ron Howard's "A Beautiful Mind" faced charges that it did not accurately portray the personal character of protagonist John Nash, and Steven Spielberg's "Munich" was criticized for an inaccurate depiction of Israeli Mossad agents.

Does it really matter? One could argue that strict accuracy is irrelevant to a film's quality, that a feature film should be judged on its storytelling abilities and that the details are less important. But with so much of our history being told through films, is it the responsibility of filmmakers to hold to the facts?

Hitchens' problems with the film include that it glosses over the Hitler sympathies of George VI and his brother, Edward VIII. Says Hitchens in his essay: The film "perpetrates a gross falsification of history. ... All other considerations to one side, would the true story not have been fractionally more interesting for the audience?" He does raise an interesting point. You can check out the newsreel below.

-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Colin Firth as King George VI. Credit: Laurie Sparham / The Weinstein Co.