Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"The King's Speech"

I went a week ago to see "The King's Speech," an interesting and lovely movie. It is deserving of its recent awards. Colin Firth's acting is excellent, if just for the stutter alone. It was an interesting slice of history, worth the telling.

In fact, that was a big reason why I wanted to see it - the history part of it. I had read an article by someone who was disappointed that the movie "made up" facts (was the claim of the article's author) - both saying that the stutter was not as pronounced as the movie intimates, and that Winston Churchill was not really supportive of a change of crown from older brother to younger. I've written about a slice of history in my baseball novel ("Until the End of the Ninth," based on the true story of the 1946 Spokane Indians' minor league team and the bus crash that killed nine of the team's players). I want this story to be made into a movie. And I want the film maker to have a sense of what it means to tell a story, fictionalized, while still honoring the truth of the story being told. So I wanted to see how "The King's Speech" was made. I readied myself for disappointment.

As it turned out, however, I was pleasantly surprised. Any artistic license that they took with the facts described above seemed reasonable to me, as I watched the movie. The stuttering seemed like a lifetime - but was only seconds. This must be how it feels to speak publicly - to an entire nation, as a leader - when, the whole time, you fear that you will stutter. As for Churchill - whether he supported the older brother in public to keep the crown doesn't mean he always supported him in private. I expect that Churchill was, at a minimum, of two minds, so having the movie portray him as being of one opinion over the other didn't bother me. In the end, I was pretty happy that I could enjoy the movie for both its storytelling and for its honorable efforts to tell a story based on a true event.

In fact, it is a special art to tell a true story through the vehicle of fictionalized drama. Few even try to do it, and only a handful of those people succeed. This is especially true with sports movies (to this, I pay close attention, since I have written the baseball novel). It's as if movie makers think that sports stories don't deserve any kind of special care. For me, the richness of a true story is in its special details. It does take extra effort to look for those details - to draw those kinds of nuanced lines from different points. But isn't it all the richer, to tell the story that way? The lines almost draw themselves, when a writer is faithful to facts - either as they happened, or as they could have happened - while allowing the imagination the freedom to take the story to depths beyond facts. Life can be a lot like art, if we allow it to be - if we allow ourselves to see the themes and symbols, see how we grow within the moments of our lives, day to day. Portraying a true story, while believing that the story contains themes and symbols - just like our own lives do - is key - as is the dramatization of those facts, themes and symbols in a way that gives cohesiveness. We are, after all, taking the expansiveness of life and condensing it into a two-hour movie. How do we tell that story so that it honors both the story and the telling of it? It's a delicate balance, but one that, if done well, will allow the telling of a slice of life that touches something deep within.

I do hope "The King's Speech" keeps winning awards. It's subtle, character-driven, and an interesting slice of history, told well (in my opinion). It was a great way to spend an afternoon.

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