Over the weekend, Nina and I checked out The King’s Speech at our local village cinema. I was particularly keen to go after watching Roger Simon and Lionel Chetwynd rave about the film in a recent edition of PJTV’s Poliwood.
They weren’t wrong.
But let’s look at a couple of interpretations of what the film means. Nowhere near as deep as this guy, but what the heck, let’s see what happens.
Remember how the left went nuts (I know, I know, but hang on, I’m going to narrow it down a bit) when conservatives found a pro-Bush subtext in The Dark Knight? You could make a similar case — and perhaps it’s just as unintentional from the filmmakers — that there’s one as well in The King’s Speech.
WARNING: SPOILERS GALORE FOLLOW ON THE NEXT PAGE — IF YOU HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF ENGLAND IN THE 1930s, DON’T READ ANY FURTHER!
OK, still here?
For those who haven’t seen the film, The King’s Speech pits two successors to the British throne in the run-up to World War II, once King George the V, their elderly father passes away in 1936. Colin Firth as Prince Albert, with his stammering and intense fear of public speaking, is clearly the right man to lead England into the battle that everyone knows is coming with Nazi Germany. In contrast, his brother, Prince Edward, (played by Guy Pearce) later dubbed the Duke of Windsor when he abdicates the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, is a moral reprobate. He’s much more polished and handsome than “Bertie,” he’s a superb public speaker, he’s one of the world’s great dressers (Windsor knots, Suede shoes, tab-collared shirts? The Duke popularized them all in the late 1920s and early 1930s), but he’s the wrong man for the tasks of the job he seeks.
This isn’t the perfect analogy, as by all accounts, President Obama has been a good family man, but there’s no doubt that in his adult life, he’s had a yen for every aspect of Radical Chic, from his association to Bill Ayers, to his anti-colonial obsessions. The symbolic early gesture of returning a bust of Churchill to England his predecessors cherished in the White House telegraphed much about his worldview.
The man he replaced was confident, intelligent, but often ridiculed by the left due to his obvious fear of public speaking, and the frequent malapropisms his phobia caused, flaws that they invariably overlooked when they occurred by the politicians on their side of the aisle.
And yet, as we’ve seen in the recent months, there are lots of people who believe the wrong man is currently serving the nation during a time of war and economic crisis — and more than a little nostalgic for the man whom he replaced.
OK, let’s really go down the rabbit hole. Forget all of the above. Maybe The King’s Speech is simply the long-overdue art house equivalent of Star Wars:
- Obvious good guys? Check.
- Obvious bad guys? Check.
- The lead good guy assisted by the older, cynical, yet ultimately heroic sidekick? Check and double-check.
- A fairy princess? Check-aroonie.
- The elderly bearded father figure dies mid-picture? Check!
- The triumphant victory march at the end? Much smaller scale, but yup, it’s there.
And for what it’s worth, the screenwriter got his start on a Lucasfilm production.
Is either interpretation accurate? Who knows. Who cares? As anyone who’s read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces can tell you, the same plot elements that drove Star Wars have served everyone from Homer (not the one who lives in Springfield) to Tolkien and CS Lewis. Star Wars simply wrapped up its particular style of mythic quest with killer outer space shots, but the subtext remains the same.
And the ambiguity of a film’s subtext is always open to wild interpretation — sometimes misinterpretation. When Fatal Attraction debuted, it was initially interpreted by no less than Brian DePalma (then riding high with The Untouchables) as a “postfeminist AIDS thriller.” Around that same time, Wall Street, Oliver Stone’s anti-capitalist parable quickly become beloved by most stockbrokers. I’ll bet plenty of GIs and Marines loved Altman’s M*A*S*H and Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.
Oh and speaking of Kubrick, as he told one critic of Dr. Strangelove, “I would not think of quarreling with your interpretation nor offering any other, as I have found it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself.”