Friday, February 11, 2011

Gooey trance

Setting aside the excitement about the vote in the Commons on prisoners' voting rights, since we shall not know the eventual outcome till there is a reaction from the ECHR, I thought I'd turn to the film that is described by the more hysterical part of the journalistic fraternity and sorority as a cultural phenomenon or something like that, The King's Speech.

As I mentioned before, I reviewed the film on the New Culture Forum. I thought it was good in the way British films can be good: well acted, well scripted, pleasantly sentimental and accurate in details of period paraphernalia. Not one of the greatest but, given the low standard of film-making in most countries in recent years and even decades, highly to be commended. I also thought the historical research was shoddy beyond belief with just about every historical detail outside the central theme of the Duke of York, later King George VI overcoming his disability were wrong to the point of atrociousness. Other critics picked up on it as well, in particular castigating the change in Churchill's role in the Abdication crisis. As it happens even the central theme played around with some of the timing and details but that is not such a big problem - a film has to have dramatic logic.

Inevitably, I was accused, though not by all, of being nit-picky. At least it shows the monarchy in a good light. It's still rubbishy history, I replied. But if it makes people go back to the actual events and read about the history, it will be worth it. That I cannot argue with. Anything that makes people find out more about their country's history (fairly recent history at that) is a good thing in my opinion.

Sadly, this does not seem to be happening. There is some talk of a new edition of Sarah Bradford's biography of George VI, The Reluctant King, but it remains muted. A few articles appeared about the "real' George VI but these did not tell us anything that was not already in the film. And there was a ridiculous campaign to make George VI out to be a secret Nazi sympathizer; this was, one suspects, motivated by a desire to prevent any Oscars being awarded to the film. The campaign seems to have had no effect on audiences in America, let alone Britain.

For the most part, the historical aspect of the story has been passing the entranced viewers by. The general reaction, as far as I can make out, has been a form of gooey trance with the story seen as little more than a heart-warming, feel-good soap opera plot. History? What history? A pox upon your history.

I suppose it is not unreasonable to see the film as a traditional fairy tale: younger brother (in this case a prince but that is of secondary importance) starts with a manifest disadvantage yet manages to overcome it through courage and persistence and the help of his entourage, acquiring a throne in the process, and proving himself to be worthy of it. Nothing wrong with the plot, especially if it inspires people to think in terms of courage and persistence rather than entitlement. I have seen no sign of that effect either but it may develop. For all of that, it is heartbreaking to see that another chance to learn about the history of Britain is not being taken up through sentimentality.

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