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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 audiences.


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 rare movie 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?


Rod Gustafson


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.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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