Citizen Kelvin and I are usually pretty close to on the same page when it comes to our opinions of movies. But over the last few weeks, we’ve realized that our assessments of Tom Hooper’s Best Picture-winning film The King’s Speech are far from aligned. We thought our discussion might be worth sharing so here it is (edited for spelling/grammar/clarity).
Citizen Kelvin: I’m not denying it is not well made, but the subject matter, to me, is just wack. The idea that they glorify and romanticize a figure, who is slightly less useless than Neville Chamberlain, just because he overcomes a speech impediment, is not as inspiring as the film suggests. Soldiers are out there dying and actual leaders are contributing to the war and this film is celebrating some stuttering King? Talk about a “white people problem.” Sorry, I don’t buy it. And the fact that Hollywood gobbles this stuff up just irritates me even more. To pick it over The Social Network just shows how traditional and conservative Hollywood really is. It’s like picking Crash over Brokeback Mountain. And I really dislike Hooper’s style too. His close ups, asymmetrical composition, and canted angles doesn’t seem appropriate for this type of film. It’s a bold style for a safe narrative.
Toshirô Jojune: Eh, I disagree. I can totally buy that in England where they may actually have some affection for a monarch that this matters to them. I think you’re underestimating the value of propaganda and morale and the monarch’s influence on them. Especially in an uncertain time like World War II, a figurehead’s almost express value is in his or her ability to unite and comfort people. It’s a seemingly pretty small story (a guy learning to speak publicly without stuttering) but him overcoming that flaw has an impact on a lot of people. But yes, I ultimately agree that the film is definitely unmitigated Oscar-bait.
CK: Well, I get that for that period. Not really denying his influence. But reading it in the context of today, the movie quite simply serves to reinforce traditional values. If The Social Network is an anti-authoritative work, The King’s Speech is the antithesis. I certainly fault the academy and I also fault the director for telling a story that just isn’t that relevant. Plus, the movie seriously alters history in regards to the relationship between Churchill and King George VI. Why not tell the story of their rocky relationship? Instead, they choose to romanticize this guy.
TJ: I think that’s a much more nuanced criticism than “it’s wack”. I think it’s an entertaining and mostly compelling movie but yes, certainly not great. I think you’re hating on it a little unfairly though because you believe (and I agree) it unjustly won Best Picture over what we both consider to be a superior film (The Social Network). But on its own merits, The King’s Speech is just fine.
CK: Well, I never liked it, even before it won. At the end of the day, I just have to ask, “Who cares?” Do I really care about this dude? No, I don’t. I’m sorry but Churchill was far more influential than this guy. But it’s okay, entertainment wise.
TJ: That’s probably true (are there any good Churchill movies?). But I’m ok with hearing stories that I have zero exposure to.
CK: Alright. Here’s the thing… to me, sometimes I have to judge a movie beyond the craft or filmmaking. Birth of a Nation is a “great” film but it’s a racist one. Sure, Crash is “well-made” but it has such a simplistic view of racism that I can’t forgive or overlook it.
TJ: I have no problem with that. However, I think a film being “well-made” precludes it from sucking.
CK: My reason for thinking The King’s Speech sucks should be just as legitimate as those who praise it for its entertainment value.
TJ: I think it’s more than fair to say you hate or dislike it or think it’s overrated or whatever. I’m just saying that that doesn’t mean it objectively sucks (yes, “sucks” is an objective, quantifiable measure). Fifty Shades of Grey objectively sucks. The King’s Speech is not in that class.
CK: Well, obviously you can’t compare Fifty Shades of Grey with The King’s Speech but there’s different degrees of blowing. The ideas are just as important to me as the craft. I believe this is one of the biggest problem with film criticism, where the craft is often valued more than the ideas the film is trying to project. Why is it easier to forgive a movie just because it’s well-made, entertaining, but shallow, than it is to forgive a daring movie that lacks the glitz and glamor of Hollywood? We talked about American Sniper before so I’ll bring it up again. We both disliked it but the general public loved it. We can’t really deny it’s well-made. It had its moments. It’s suspenseful. It’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. But let’s face it, despite what Eastwood says, the movie is a huge conservative propaganda piece. At this point, Eastwood’s mastery of the craft is a given. I can’t judge him on that alone anymore. That’s how I look at The King’s Speech as well.
TJ: Do you think American Sniper sucks? I agree, valuing craft over a film’s ideas isn’t right or fair… but I don’t necessarily think that a film’s ideas should be valued over craft either. If they’re presented in an unwatchable mess that no one can tolerate or digest, what good are deep, thoughtful ideas? I think the rarity of profound ideas is overstated… but being able to shape and incorporate those ideas into an engaging, entertaining film is one heck of an accomplishment. I think having that balance between craft and ideas is what separates good films from the great. Having quality in only one facet or the other prevents the film from being great or special, but I also think that saves it from falling into “sucky” territory. We’ve both worked on features and we know how incredibly difficult it is to get anything accomplished… so beyond even the minor miracle it is to create/finish a film, if that film is truly well-made, it simply is not fair or right to say it sucks. And I think The King’s Speech falls into that category.
CK: That’s true. But look, I’m not a huge fan of Jean-Luc Godard but I also have such a tremendous amount of respect for him because he dares to make grand declarations at the expense of entertainment. It’s not alway fun to watch, but there’s something that lingers, too. Same goes for Ingmar Bergman, Luis Bunuel, Stan Brakhage, Stanley Kubrick, Paul Thomas Anderson, etc. They’ll forever be remembered for it. I just think sometimes I have to remind myself that cinema doesn’t exist in a vacuum. So even while I’m watching a Hollywood film that is well-made, I also have to look at it through a different lens. In the grand scheme of cinema and art, does The King’s Speech hold up? HELL NO! I can’t see that far ahead into the future but Hooper, as Les Misérables has already proven, is nowhere near the artists I’ve just mentioned because he’s safe, traditional, and bland. Sure, the narrative follows Hollywood’s prototypical structure to the tee but that’s not enough for me. You are absolutely right, though. We’re both aspiring screenwriters and we know the extreme difficulty in writing a story that is entertaining, thoughtful, and engaging. But that should be a given for them, especially with the resources they have access to. Perhaps I’m being unfair but so what? It’s time to be extra critical towards Hollywood’s lackadaisical moviemaking, especially when there are tons of marginalized artists out there begging to be heard. Hollywood loves to neuter ideas because it might not bode well for the box-office, or it might offend, yada yada yada. I concede that The King’s Speech played some cards right, but it’s too cautious and conservative for my taste. That to me is an epic fail and a wasted opportunity. But that’s Hollywood.
TJ: Both of us like plenty of films that are well-made and entertaining but aren’t particularly deep and I highly doubt you’d say those movies suck. Those movies are not as common as I think you’re making them out to be. You’ve been complaining the last few weeks that there isn’t anything to watch in theaters and for the most part, I’ve agreed. I’ve managed to see like three relatively entertaining movies (Focus, Run All Night, and most recently Kingsman: The Secret Service) mixed in with junk like Insurgent and dozens of other probably bad movies that I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid. The reality is that there are way, way more virtually unwatchable movies out there than there are legitimately interesting, engaging movies. I’m repeating myself, but The King’s Speech falls into the latter, not the former… and considering how exclusive that company of films actually is, I don’t think that’s an accomplishment to be ignored. Maybe my standards for movies are just lower than yours, but honestly, I just think yours might be unrealistic.