The King's Speech, Tom Hooper's historical drama about King George VI overcoming a stutter on the eve of World War II, is one of the most acclaimed films of the year. It's received 12 Oscar nominations, and has won the approval of figures as diverse as Roger Ebert and Peggy Noonan. But should we trust its portrayal of history and the British monarchy?
In his latest column for Slate, Christopher Hitchens says that no, we should not. The King's Speech commits a number of grave factual errors, says Hitchens. For one thing, it depicts Winston Churchill as "a consistent friend of the stuttering prince," when in reality, Churchill "was--for as long as he dared--a consistent friend of conceited, spoiled, Hitler-sympathizing Edward VIII."
Perhaps more seriously, Hitchens goes on to note, the film glosses over the fact that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth--that's "Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter to you"--were staunch allies of Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister famous for ceding the Sudetenland to Hitler in 1938. Hitchens explains how George and Elizabeth sidestepped "ancient custom" by giving Chamberlain's appeasement their royal approval before Parliament could weigh in--the reverse of how it's always done in the U.K. According to one scholar, this was "the most unconstitutional act by a British Sovereign" in the twentieth century.
"Almost the entire moral capital" of Britain's royal family "is invested in the post-fabricated myth of its participation in 'Britain's finest hour,'" writes Hitchens. "In fact, had it been up to them, the finest hour would never have taken place." The essay is echt Hitchens--at once dense and entertaining, erudite and fascinating. Read it if you're interested in British history and the ways in which stories change on their way to the silver screen. King George may have had a stammer, but Hitchens doesn't miss a word.