Moviemaking versus History: The King’s Speech and the Clash over Accuracy

It’s Oscar season, and the latest nominated movie to come under the harsh scrutiny of historians and cultural commentators is The King’s Speech.

The UK-produced film tells the story of Prince Albert, the Duke of York’s struggle to overcome his speech impediment in preparation for taking the throne during the those tense days leading up to World War II.

The principal duelists this time are the movie’s screenwriter, David Seidler, and journalist-essayist Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens takes issue with what he considers the movie’s whitewashing of Winston Churchill’s early vacillation in confronting the Nazi threat in an effort to keep King Edward VIII on the throne.

The thrusts and parries in this argument are fascinating and instructive on the inevitable tensions and competing demands when filmmakers take on the challenge of portraying historical figures. In order, the briefs are as follows:

1) Christopher Hitchens’s review of the film at Slate.com;

2) David Seidler’s defense of his treatment of history in an interview with
Huffington Post blogger Patricia Zohn; and

3) Hitchens’s rebuttal to Seidler.

 

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