David Thomson: Why "The King's Speech" Will Win the Oscar





[David Thomson is the author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film and The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder.]

For a while in this awards season, The Social Network seemed to be the favorite for the Best Picture Oscar. But the later opening of The King’s Speech has served it well. In the crucial nomination and voting period, The Social Network’s domestic box office slowed down, and it has earned less than $100 million. The picture has been hard to find in theaters, in part because it appeared on DVD in January. But, in the Christmas and New Year period, The King’s Speech picked up surprising momentum—because of the royal family angle; because stuttering has led to several background stories; but chiefly because Colin Firth has been such a charm in publicity events. So The King’s Speech has now gone over $100 million, and its presence in theatres (and press advertising from the Weinstein Company) has probably impressed voters. It has also picked up crucial awards along the way: the Directors’ Guild award; the Screen Actors’ award; and a Golden Globe for Colin Firth....

Who cares about 1937, you ask. It’s a long time ago when people were still pretty scared of the telephone as well as looming political figures in the world. But entertain this thought: The large audience knows very little about stammering or stuttering (the Atlantic changes the word itself), and modern Americans are happy to be tourists when it comes to royalty—they’ll give an amused glance, and they may raise their hats, but they don’t take the thing seriously. Yet they do still enjoy movies in which they are able to like some of the characters and say, “Well, sure, I can understand that.”...

No matter that a lot has changed since 1937, and much of it for the good (though there is still no cure for stammering, feeling insecure and lonely, or even for unemployment), the public—ourselves—have not lost the pleasure in following stories and identifying with characters we like. They don’t have to be Shirley Temple or Lassie. But they have to nurse enough hope or energy or good will to bring us out at night. The King’s Speech takes due advantage of punctured pomp, period clothes, and British supporting actors (shameless attributes of cultural tourism), but it is written, directed, and played as if personal unhappiness matters and stimulates the attempt to get better. That is actually as much an American tradition as it ever was alive and well in Britain....

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