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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'The King's Speech': The triumph of Hollywood conservative values

As one essayist wrote not long ago, it's become an article of faith in Conservative America that Hollywood is a “collection of hopeless la-la-land liberals — or worse, an elitist gaggle of heartland-bashing snobs.” Conservatives have routinely ridiculed Oscar movies for attacking the military (“Avatar”), promoting homosexuality (“Milk” and “Brokeback Mountain”) and depicting corporate executives as evil villains (“The Constant Gardener” and “Syriana”).

So it must've been quite a shock to watch all the la-la-liberals at the Oscars Sunday night honoring their elders and celebrating tradition on a show where the first clip of the night was from “Gone With the Wind” and the two guys who may have had the most screen time were Kirk Douglas and Bob Hope. Outside of a couple of lesbian jokes and one tiny barb directed at Wall Street from documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson, the awards were drearily free of controversy, outrage or anything remotely resembling lefty sanctimony.

On the other hand, the Academy Awards were true to the spirit of this past year's movies. As this year's show demonstrated, Hollywood isn't so easily stereotyped. It may be a town full of liberals, but when it comes to its most prestigious awards show, the most exalted statuettes went to films that espouse conservative values. “The King's Speech,” which won four Oscars, including the climactic one for best picture, is a profoundly conservative film, paying tribute to King George VI, an aristocratic English monarch who, humbled by a humiliating stutter, develops a deep friendship with a commoner, his speech therapist.

The film portrays the king as a man of noblesse oblige — he sacrifices for the common good by willingly assuming the heavy mantle of leadership, even if it will expose his most embarrassing flaw. He is, in other words, resolutely Old School. Could a movie be any more richly conservative in its values than that? And yet “The King's Speech,” from David Seidler, its writer, to Colin Firth, its leading man, to Harvey Weinstein, the studio chief who masterminded its Oscar campaign, was brought into the world by a host of ardent liberals.

The same can be said for “The Social Network,” which won three Oscars last night and was the season's other prime best picture contender. Even though it is set in the rarefied air of Harvard, “Social Network” is far from a liberal critique of capitalistic excess. It's a thoroughly pro-business film that celebrates the rise of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who for all his new media hip veneer is just as much of a cunning, ambitious, thoroughly cold-blooded entrepreneur as — gasp — Rupert Murdoch.

Yet the film was written by Aaron Sorkin, a flaming liberal who spends much of his time online hurling poison darts at Sarah Palin. And the film was financed and distributed by Sony Pictures, whose co-chairmen, Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton, are both outspoken advocates for various Hollywood progressive causes.

This is hardly a fluke. Just last year, the academy gave its best picture honor to “The Hurt Locker,” which many conservatives praised as a pro-military film, and not just because director Kathryn Bigelow, when accepting her Oscar for best director, dedicated the film to “the women and men of the military who risk their lives every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.” That was hardly obligatory podium pabulum — the film's bomb-disposal experts were portrayed as being selfless, heroic and full of masculine cool.

Since the arrival of the “Easy Rider” generation in the late 1960s. Hollywood has been a bastion of liberalism. But the argument conservatives make — that the industry is just a club of pampered rich kids and Ivy League elitists who spurn movies without the requisite liberal credentials — doesn't hold water, especially not at Oscar time.

If you study Oscar history, you see liberal Hollywood has often rewarded films promoting conservative values. That pattern dates at least as far back as 1971, during the height of the Vietnam War, when “Patton,” a stirring salute to World War II's most indomitable military man, not only won best picture, but beat out “MASH,” a defiantly antiwar comedy. The same thing happened in 1979, when “The Deer Hunter,” an evocative portrait of blue-collar steelworkers sent off to fend for themselves in Vietnam won best picture over the openly antiwar “Coming Home,” which costarred antiwar activists Jon Voight and Jane Fonda.

So why does liberal Hollywood often pay its highest tribute to films with such conservative themes? First of all, because people are making movies, not trying to send a message. Artists, as well as the studio executives who finance their movies, are not ideologues. They are storytellers whose work is propelled by emotion, relationships and the dramatic sweep of a script, not its political content.

In “The King's Speech,” the academy, like most of America, saw two men, a lofty king and a lowly commoner, who brought out the best in each other. Even though the film is set in 1930s England, it is, as one critic called it, “a fable of egalitarianism.”

In other words, it's exactly the kind of fable Hollywood has always loved, dating as far back as Frank Capra and John Ford. Perhaps that's why conservatives and liberals all found something to love in the film.


Red carpet photos

Oscar scorecard

Complete coverage: The Oscars

--Patrick Goldstein

Photo: "The King's Speech" wins best picture at the Oscars. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (43)

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So what if The King's Speech smacks of conservative values. Can't you just sit and appreciate a really good flick without having to make such political judgments? Geez.

Eeehh... exactly what's so 'conservative' about The King's Speech? I am a conservative but have no idea wht anyone would view this film through a lens of modern conservative /liberal. About the only things that relate are the brief mention of how liberals like Chamberlain bought Hitler's baloney and how those called 'warmongers' ie conservatives like Churchill were right about him. But those points were hardly the focus of the film.

"Hollywood" is like no business I know- meaning that it is cut throat and capitalistic, but I don't see how egalitarianism compares to the modern Conservative movement. It can mean what the Framers intended, or it can mean we are all equal and to me that smacks of- you know what! And it doesn't take much to find Sorkin's brand of Hollywood hatred of Palin to quote from: "I don’t watch snuff films and you make them. You weren’t killing that animal for food or shelter or even fashion, you were killing it for fun. You enjoy killing animals." - This is just a nice, attractive Woman with huge power and he can't stand it. Simple. Hollywood, my hometown, is a bastion of liberal elites currently. Very radical. Don't preach to us, now, unless you provide a pure example. Don't drive your Prius to Van Nuys to take your Lear to Paris!


I'm sorry,but this entire article is a ridiculous piece of juvenille 'hack' analagy.Why is everything in American so simplisticly polarized,when I'm sure, in reality, none of these factors were in the minds of the filmakers when they started on the process of making a film?!

So, what you're saying is that even a gaggle of leftist hollywood elitists can 'lower' their standards to cash in on a conservative trend.
I once met a conservative, but I tried not to get any on me.
Seriously, why not an article about the movie?

Oh, Patrick. You have everything all wrong again. You are a horrible spinmeister but a great passive-aggressive.

It seems the only time you can assess things is when you take 1,000 words to assess your own errant assessment.

As for the conservative themes, as with all else, you are partly right. Your continued propaganda about the personnel in Hollywood is either hopelessly naive or deliberately misleading. Based on your past writing, I bet on the latter.

The one bit of hypocrisy you have forgotten to point out is that the business and structure of Hollywood is THE most conservative/Republican economic system in this nation. But you lie when you say the majority of practitioners are not ideologues or there is no persecution/penalties for "outed" conservatives, particularly in the lower ranks.

You know better. You just don't have the courage or ethics to write it.

It just shows that Hollywood might be outspokenly liberal, they're hypocrites who like movies that make money.

Since when did good values become "conservative" values? Since when do friendship, hard work, family love and sense of duty equate with conservatism? It's offensive that the label "values" voters implies that liberals have no values. I'm a liberal, AND I love my friends, love my husband, love my kids and my home and strive to be kind and responsible. Liberal is not the same as libertine. The King's Speech promotes values we can all strive for, and those values transcend political labels.

I think a strong factor is if something looks like it will make money then that 'value' tends to overcome most others in Hollywood.

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