King's Speech Gets Cleaned Up After Oscar
Last Sunday night's Oscar
broadcast resulted in a typical Academy Awards trend: R-rated movies took home
most of the hardware. Sadly it seems if you don't have a "serious" movie rating,
your chances of seeing the golden statue are greatly reduced.
However, given the other choices
in many categories, not to mention the complete selection of movies during 2010,
I can't complain too loudly. Frankly, I truly enjoyed the R-rated The King's
Speech and feel it was more than worthy of taking home the top prize of Best
Picture and the many other related awards it gathered. Now the news this week is
Harvey Weinstein (executive producer of the movie and co-owner of The Weinstein
Co.) is planning on pushing ahead with a lower rated version of the film, which
should hit theaters in short order.
This reworking of the King's
vocabulary first hit presses in early January. An
LA Times article reported Weinstein's intentions of taming the language
after seeing the film's box office success in Britain.
"The British numbers are huge
because the rating [in Britain] lets families see the movie together," said
Weinstein. He adds that he and director Tom Hooper are looking for a way to
allow more families to see the movie in the US.
For readers who are not familiar
with the film, it is based on the true story of King VI of Britain and his
determination to overcome a stuttering impairment after unexpectedly ascending
to the throne just prior to World War II. The portrayal of the determined king
has been hailed by educators and speech impairment organizations, and with good
reason. The film promotes positive methods to better understand the possible
psychological reasons that may exasperate a speech problem. Artistically the
movie is superb, with creative cinematography, beautiful costumes, articulate
set design and stellar performances.
The issue over the R-rating
occurs during a heightened moment when the king is being instructed by his
speech therapist. The therapist asks the king of he stutters when he curses.
When the king replies that he doesn't, the therapist asks him to curse. It takes
some encouragement, but eventually the king lets loose and we hear a stream of
scatological, regional and sexual expletives -- including the almighty F-word.
Otherwise the movie contains virtually no sex (there are only a couple of brief
references referring to the promiscuous behavior of the king's brother, and
these reverences act to show how his choices have led to negative consequences)
and no violence.
It's the nasty language that
leads to the issue of ratings. In the UK The King's Speech was originally
classified with the "15" rating, meaning no one under that age could see the
film. The Weinstein Co. appealed this decision to the British Board of Film
Classification (BBFC) and the rating was lowered to 12A, meaning those 12 and
over can freely enter the theater while those under must be accompanied by a
parent. It is this lower rating that Weinstein feels has led to the film having
great box office success in Britain.
In the US, the distributor
appealed the R-rating, but with no success. The MPAA guidelines on the matter of
language are more succinct than those of the BBFC. Typically any more than a
single "sexual expletive" (the polite terminology for the F-word) will lead to
an R-rating. That has led to the decision to remove the offending words with the
hopes, according the aforementioned LA Times article, of being granted a PG-13
or even, possibly, a PG-rating.
This process of dancing with
ratings raises a bundle of interesting questions and near endless speculation of
what the underlying motivations for removing the words might be and why they
were ever included in the first place.
As I mentioned, the Academy has
been on an R-rated roll for the past seven years. The Lord of the Rings: The
Return of the King was the last movie to take home Best Picture without the
Restricted rating. Looking at the script for The King's Speech, it is
certain that without the F-word, the film would have rated PG-13 or even worse
(or better, depending on your perspective) PG. (To discover the last PG-rated
Best Picture winner, you need to reflect back over two decades to the 1989
release of Driving Miss Daisy.) Looking at this track record, I tend to
agree that the top Oscar is biased toward films directed toward only adult
That leads to an interesting
question: Does an F-word alone make a movie an award winner? If we could live in
an impossible parallel universe and peek through a window into a world where the
83rd Academy Awards shunned a PG-13 rated version of The King's Speech,
we would know this for certain. Obviously, we will never be able to verify this
test, but it is a sad reflection on the state of the arts when profanities
sublimely suggest serious cinema.
Another fair question is whether
removing the venomous verbiage will guarantee domestic box office riches? I'm
not so sure. I think Harvey Weinstein has forgotten one other important element:
Young Brits may be far more interested in a talky drama about a king than US
teens might be. And while I personally enjoyed the movie, only the most patient
of pre-teens will be willing to sit through it. I am quite certain parents and
teachers will appreciate a non-R version on home video, and this would help
drive sales of the film.
Historically, I challenge anyone
to come up with a document that records exactly what words George VI belted out
during his speech sessions. Like so many "true" stories in theaters, we always
need to be aware of dramatization and artistic license. However it is a shame
that producers like Weinstein usually think of family audiences as an
afterthought, and only after they perceive a lucrative reward for doing so.
The King's Speech is a
at Parent Previews. After over two decades of reviewing movies from a family
perspective, it is the only R-rated film we have awarded an A-grade to (an
A-minus actually, due to the language) and only one of less than a dozen R-rated
films we have even mildly recommended. Yet it would be ridiculous to think this
film's artistic integrity would be eroded had it not included the string of
sexual expletives. Other lesser offensive words could have been substituted,
resulting in a PG-13 rating, and the movie would still have brought the same
powerful message across. However, with these changes now becoming a public
afterthought, one can't help but question why executive producers like Harvey
Weinstein didn't think about all the money families are willing to spend to see
quality movies in the first place?
Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews® - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.
and the Media by Rod Gustafson
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