Why Does the Truth Matter in “The King’s Speech?”

Why Does the Truth Matter in “The King’s Speech?” (photo)

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I’ve talked to a lot of people about “The Social Network.” I’ve met people who didn’t like it because they felt it didn’t tell them enough about Facebook. I’ve met people who didn’t like it because they didn’t think it lived up to the hype or their expectations. But I haven’t met anyone who didn’t like “The Social Network” because it was untruthful. For whatever reason, it’s just not a big deal to most viewers. Oh sure, they may be curious about where director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin contorted the facts to serve their needs as filmmakers. But very few people looked at the truth, compared it to the movie, and said “this invalidates the film.”

Which is why I’m a bit confused by the growing controversy around “The Social Network”‘s biggest competitor at next month’s Academy Awards, “The King’s Speech.” Most of it surrounds this article by Christopher Hitchens for Slate. Entitled “Churchill Didn’t Say That,” Hitchens details the various ways in which the film, about King George VI (Colin Firth) and his battle to overcome his speech impediment on the eve of World War II, strays from the historical record. According to Hitchens, the film, directed by Tom Hooper and written by David Seidler, is particularly inaccurate in its depiction of Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall) and the King as longtime allies. In fact, Churchill was extremely loyal to George VI’s predecessor, Edward VIII. Further, while the film implies that George VI immediately rallied England to defeat the Germans after his coronation, he actually supported Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s strategy of appeasement for as long as he could. Hitchens writes:

“The king himself, even after the Nazi armies had struck deep north into Scandinavia and clear across the low countries to France, did not wish to accept Chamberlain’s resignation. He ‘told him how grossly unfairly he had been treated, and that I was genuinely sorry.’ Discussing a successor, the king wrote that “‘, of course, suggested [Lord] Halifax.’ It was explained to him that this arch-appeaser would not do and that anyway a wartime coalition could hardly be led by an unelected member of the House of Lords. Unimpressed, the king told his diary that he couldn’t get used to the idea of Churchill as prime minister and had greeted the defeated Halifax to tell him that he wished he had been chosen instead. All this can easily be known by anybody willing to do some elementary research.”

To be fair, Hitchens does note that “The King’s Speech” is “an extremely well-made film with a seductive human interest plot.” But he also says that it constitutes “a major desecration of the historical record.” But why does that matter in the case of this film and not in the case of “The Social Network?”

Maybe the liberties Fincher and Sorkin took don’t constitute “major” desecrations. Maybe they avoided some blowback by working a commentary on the ambiguous nature of history and memory into the structure of their screenplay. But they didn’t exactly make a documentary either. In the film, their version of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is motivated to create Facebook for two reasons: his desire to join one of Harvard’s elite clubs, and to stick it to Erica (Rooney Mara), a girl who dumped him. But according to David Kirkpatrick, author of “The Facebook Effect,” the real Zuckerberg, “was uninterested in the clubs. Instead, he had concluded that sharing and transparency would redefine the Internet and was determined to experiment with software that exemplified his ideas. He also wanted to respond to widespread student dissatisfaction that Harvard had not put online its paper “facebook,” with photos of freshmen.” “The Social Network” ends, quite powerfully, with a shot of Zuckerberg — I am about to spoil the end of “The Social Network” here, people — obsessing over Erica’s Facebook page. But by that point in time Zuckerberg was already dating his longtime girlfriend Priscilla Chan, who is not mentioned once in Fincher and Sorkin’s version.

I’m not bringing these things up to condemn “The Social Network” but to observe its similarities to “The King’s Speech,” which is being condemned. In both cases, the changes are primarily omissions, and specifically omissions designed to refine and “movie-ize” their lead character’s motivations. Mark Zuckerberg might have just started Facebook because he was a smart, forward-thinking nerd, but there’s no movie there if he did. Making him a loveless dork crystallizes his need to belong and his inability to connect with the people around him, which is a perfect movie-ized reason to start a website about social connections. King George VI’s journey to overcome his speech impediment is inspiring, but it’s not truly dramatic without a climactic test — hence condensing (and movie-izing) the period between his coronation (May 12, 1937) and England’s declaration of war against Germany (September 3, 1939).

I’m not necessarily saying that makes what Hooper and Seidler (or Fincher and Sorkin) did okay. But you can’t have it both ways. If Sorkin can shape the truth as he sees fit to tell a story, then so can Seidler. You can’t pick and choose which one is an outrage based on whether or not you liked the movie.

And I do suspect “The Social Network” has gotten a bit of a pass because people love the movie so much, and because people like and respect Aaron Sorkin. I think Sorkin’s also been smart in the way he’s addressed the issue in the press. Although he’s said New York Magazine Magazine, “I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling.”

And that’s the party line I’ve seen repeated in most articles and reviews about the film: the movie isn’t trying to be a definitive historical record of Facebook and Zuckerberg, so to hold it to that standard is unfair, like judging a drama by how often it makes you laugh out loud. Seidler hasn’t given as many interviews, hasn’t made his intentions as clear, and maybe as a result, has not been given as much benefit of the doubt.

Now you might say that there’s also a moral difference between erasing a man’s girlfriend and erasing a man’s sympathy of Nazis. But it’s not as if “The King’s Speech” is pro-Nazi; it’s clearly and bluntly anti-Nazi. If Hooper and Seidler erased George VI’s dealings with Chamberlain and Hitler and made absolutely no mention of England’s political realities at the time, pretended the Nazis didn’t exist, you might have something. Though I’m not offended or outraged by either movie, I think the changes made in “The Social Network” are a lot more potentially serious because those people are still alive, and their existence can (and, I suspect, will) be inexorably changed by the versions of themselves millions of people watch onscreen.

Mostly I would hope that in 2011 we’re not so naive as viewers as to believe that what we see in a docudrama is the entire truth. We should have learned by now that the finer details of history are always sacrificed for the broad needs of drama.

Gigi Does It Ep6

Get Freaky With Gigi

5 Ways Gigi Can Help You Become a Better Lover

Gigi limbers up for love tonight at 10:30 PT/ET.

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Coming down off this weekend’s Pixy Stix sugar high? Well, rather than raid your grandkids’ candy sacks for some stray Charleston Chews, tune in to tonight’s all new Gigi Does It at 10:30P ET/PT for enough sweet sass to send you into a diabetic coma. But before you fire up the ol’ Life Alert, here are five ways to get ready for tonight’s episode that will also improve your moves in the boudoir.

1. Relive your crazy Halloween.

Sure, you’ve already rung in All Hallows’ Eve with some petty vandalism and your best Taylor Swift getup. But it’s never too late to break out the spooky ghoul costume and do like Gigi and put that TP in the trees to good, practical use.

2. Try something new in the bedroom.

Every healthy relationship ought to include some variety in the intimacy department, which is why it’s always smart to brush up on what those wild kids are doing in the bedroom these days. (If you’re confused with any of the terms, consult your male nurse.)

3. Limber up.

Physical therapists advise against sitting or lying down for extended periods of time, so take a moment to stretch out those quads and hammies with Gigi – regardless of how many “good legs” you have.

4. Browse the Web with a friend.

Surfing the ‘net with a pal can be fun. Just watch out for those nasty pop-up ads.

5. Watch the video that is too hot for Facebook.

Deemed “Too Hot for Facebook,” this Gigi clip removes the bleeps and blurs for a raw, NSFW look at the foul-mouthed granny in action.

That 70s Show Fez

Fez Fever!

Think You Know Fez? Take This Quiz!

Catch That '70s Show Mondays and Tuesdays from 6-11P ET/PT.

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Fez played the role of the outsider on That ’70s Show, but was quickly welcomed into the Circle. How deeply have you accepted Fez into your life? Click below to start the quiz and find out!


That 70s Show James Franco

That '70s Franco

Watch James Franco’s Geriatric That ’70s Show Spoof

Catch That '70s Show Mondays & Tuesdays 6-11P on IFC.

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Ever wonder if Jackie, Kelso, Fez, Donna, Hyde, and Eric ever made it out of Red‘s basement? According to James Franco, those dumbasses definitely did not.

In a new episode of AOL’s “Making a Scene with James Franco,” the actor peered into the future of the gang from That ’70s Show to see what they’d be up to if the show actually continued into their 70s. Turns out they’re still sitting around the basement, sharing a joint, and listening to some of the Steve Miller Band’s greatest hits.

In the sketch, aptly called “That 70s ’70s Show,” Franco plays both a stoned, elderly Kelso as well as a nostril-hair heavy Eric Forman. The only member of the crew who has made it out of the basement is Donna, who has sadly passed away into a higher plane of existence (yes, it’s possible for them to get higher) leaving Eric to mourn the loss of his one true love.

For more That ’70s Show, find out who almost played Red Forman and more fun facts.

Rocky Horror Picture Show

Frank N' Facts

10 Things You May Not Know About The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Do the Time Warp with Comedy Bang! Bang!

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Aliens! Dancing! Meatloaf! When The Rocky Horror Picture Show hit the big screen all the way back in 1975, no one knew exactly what to make of it. 40 years later, Comedy Bang! Bang! is celebrating the beloved cult movie with an all-out costumed extravaganza. To get you ready for the party, we thought it was high time to jump to the left, take a step to the right, and learn a little bit more about the movie that put the “Time” in Time Warp.

10. Meatloaf Never Rode The Motorcycle


While his character, Eddie, may have been a hog riding badass, in reality a stunt double did all the future Celebrity Apprentice contestant’s bike riding stunts. That is, except for close-ups, when Meatloaf was pushed around in a wheelchair.

9. Rocky Didn’t Have a Belly Button

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

The makeup department actually fashioned a plug to cover up Peter Hinwood’s belly button, as his character was grown in a tub, and thus wouldn’t need one.

8. It Was Tim Curry’s First Movie

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Curry actually originated the role of the cross-dressing mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter on the stages of London and Los Angeles, before reprising it in his film debut.

7. Mick Jagger Wanted In On The Fun

Rolling Stones Records
Rolling Stones Records

Jagger was supposedly a fan of the stage production, and made enquiries into playing none other than Dr. Frank N. Furter.

6. The Movie Made Susan Sarandon Sick

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

The drafty country house that doubled as Dr. Frank N. Furter’s castle famously had no heat or bathrooms. Susan Sarandon complained, but no one took her seriously until she caught pneumonia while filming a dance number in a freezing pool. Always a pro, she finished the scene.

5. The Crew Used Real Skeletons

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

The gothic clock was no mere prop. In fact, the woman who first commissioned it to be made had one request — to be entombed within it. That’s her real skeleton revealed hiding inside.

4. David Bowie’s Makeup Artist Created the Film’s Looks

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Pierre La Roche, who worked on the Ziggy Stardust tour and the Aladdin Sane album cover, designed the iconic makeup for the film. Still, rumor has it he took so long to apply it, nearly four hours, that Tim Curry just ended up doing his own.

3. Magenta and Columbia Started As One Character

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Before production, Magenta and Columbia were split into two separate characters, to create a part for singer Marianne Faithfull to play. She ended up turning the role down, but the characters remained separated.

2. The Corpse Was a Deadly Surprise

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

The corpse revealed hiding inside Frank N. Furter’s dinner table was kept a secret from the actors, so their shocked reactions would be as real as possible.

1. RHPS Holds the Record For Longest Release in Film History

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

A flop upon release, Rocky Horror gained a following as a midnight movie at New York’s Waverly Theater in the late ’70s. It has since played non-stop for four decades, smashing the record for longest release of a film.

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