God save the King, and motion picture storytelling

by Mark Steyn

I’d like to second Fred Thompson’s remarks re the Oscars. I don’t think The King’s Speech is a classic for the ages, but it didn’t have to be up against Sunday’s competition. As Fred says, it’s not about some (to Americans) obscure Brit toff stammering for a couple of hours, but about something larger and primal – duty and responsibility, even when you don’t want to do something, even when in the objective sense you are entirely unsuited to the burdens placed upon you. The King’s Speech is, in Hollywood terms, a “small” movie, but it’s big at heart. By contrast, The Social Network isn’t about anything other than its own superficial cool. For all its skill, it’s small and shriveled and dessicated at heart. Yet I’ll bet more than a few studio execs are still baffled about this: After all, a year ago, if you’d asked the average screenwriter whether he’d rather pitch a film about George VI (a decent, diffident stiff) or a film about Mark Zuckerberg, I doubt you’d have had many takers for the former.

Readers will sigh that I’ve been making similarly squaresville comments about the state of movie storytelling since I covered the 1929 Oscars for NR. Very true. A few years back in this space, I compared the 1938 Prisoner Of Zenda, with Ronald Colman obliged to step in as a lookalike king in Ruritania, with Dave, the 1990s update of the template, with Kevin Kline as a lookalike US president. The first is about honor and duty, the second is about passing an affordable housing bill. Watching The King’s Speech and The Social Network and their mutually incomprehensible worlds, I wasn’t thinking about Hollywood, but about the broader landscape, and what it says about us and where we’re headed: Nothing good. 

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