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Published: Friday, 4/1/2011

COMMENTARY

Rewriting 'King's Speech' -- talk about profanity

BY KIRK BAIRD
CULTURE SHOCK

Academy Award winner Colin Firth plays King George VI. Academy Award winner Colin Firth plays King George VI.
THE WEINSTEIN CO. Enlarge
Sometimes that planet-destroying asteroid just can't get here soon enough.

Case and point, the ridiculous re-release of The King's Speech as a PG-13 "family-friendly" film.

Wasn't the Academy Award's Best Picture winner, about a stuttering king who triumphantly overcomes his affliction with the aid of an unorthodox speech therapist, already a movie suitable for most age groups? No, it was rated R, for multiple uses of the f-word and the s-word. By my count, there were 25 and 20 utterances, respectively. That's an approximation, though, considering the rapid-fire declaration in which the profanities were spoken.

Don't remember those words being in The King's Speech? That's the point.

The foul language wasn't a frequent theme of the film, as with many R-rated movies, where profanities are required parts of sentence construction, along with a noun and a verb. In fact, the familiar, and by our cultural standards popular, curse words came in two clusters as part of the radical speech therapy process.

In the first instance, Britain's King George VI (Colin Firth) rattles off the curse words in unison so quickly it's comical -- and, frankly, hard to count. In the second instance, the King returns to the same speech technique, along with others he learned, only minutes before he delivers his big speech --you know, the one in the film's title. There was nothing salacious or mean spirited about what he was saying. They weren't said as put downs or even damning exclamations to something gone wrong. It was just part of the process of how he learned to better control his stutter. Using such profane words apparently flows quite naturally out of the mouth, unencumbered by the speech impediment.

And why are these scenes worthy of an R rating?

This isn't Scarface or (insert any Quentin Tarantino film here); this is a literate BBC-made film with an English-cast pedigree that won four Oscars, including Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.

In fact, there's no reason the film was rated R to begin with, other than the prudish Motion Picture Association of America's unbendable rule that a PG-13 rating is allotted one F-word only. By my count, The King's Speech exceeded that limit 24 times over. Never mind how many violent movies that make the PG-13 cut. But that's a column for a different day.

Sensing that there are those who have shied away from such a wonderfully conceived film about friendship, perseverance, and overcoming great personal obstacles, the Weinstein Co., the American studio handling the U.S. release of The King's Speech, today has pulled all R-rated versions of the film from theaters, and replaced those prints with the PG-13 cut. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the new version, which will play in a thousand theaters nationwide including Rave Motion Pictures Levis Commons 12, mutes many of the f-words entirely or at least substitutes them with the s-word, thereby driving up the count of s-bombs even further.

Have you ever seen the TV version of The Jerk, in which a dog's name, "s---head," is unintentionally substituted for "stupidhead"? Trust me, dubs ain't pretty.

Yes, we remember what happened to Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he let slip "THE word, the big one, the queen mother of dirty words," but is the f-word really so offensive and shocking that we'd rather have the s-word instead? Fudge no. Profanity is profanity, even if we ascribe higher damnation values to one curse word over another.

So why did the film's screenwriter David Seidler put those words in the script to begin with? Well, given how historically accurate he was trying to be with the story, the scenes were included because he wanted to be true to life.

Maybe the MPAA needs to be true to life too. Or, perhaps, get a life to start.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734. Follow him on his blog, toledoblade.com/cultureshock, or on Twitter, @bladepopculture.



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