The King’s Speech Isn’t Broken, So Why The Ratings Fix?

Harvey Weinstein is on a mission to re-edit The King’s Speech, hoping to clean it up enough to earn a PG or even PG-13 rating. This is in an effort to give the film a wider appeal, considering its current R rating excludes families and younger people who may want to see it for educational purposes….hmmm.

The King’s Speech has garnered critical acclaim since its limited release in December. After its Oscars nomination, it jumped in box office ratings and general popularity. It’s quickly proving itself as the film to beat this awards season to. Not too long ago pundits had The Social Network sweeping at the Oscars, but things have changed quickly as The King’s Speech performed better-than-expected at the SAG Awards last Sunday, and is now whispered to be many predictor’s top choice for Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards.

So why the drive to mess with a good thing? The King’s Speech is an incredible story of a man battling with a debilitating speech impediment. Based on the true story of King George VI, this film takes the main character’s royalty in stride, centering instead on the very personal struggle over human weakness, and the bonds of friendship. What gives this movie the R rating are two scenes in which Colin Firth (who plays stuttering King George with extreme aplomb) drops the F-bomb. In fact, he utters ‘fuck’ about a dozen times, as well as some other choice curse words. He doesn’t do this to be offensive or because he’s angry, he uses such profanity as part of his speech therapy. When his character is having trouble spitting out a word, he utters a string of profanity and it helps him through it. The scenes in which he uses this therapy are funny and touching. They don’t come across as crude or aggressive.

Due to the way in which the profanity is used, director Tom Hooper originally tried to fight the MPAA’s R rating. According to a report in Deadline, Hooper is quoted as saying this about the film’s rating:

“Everyone understood this was a non-negotiable key to the story. What a strange world we live in that Salt can open with Angelina Jolie having a tube fed down her throat, with water poured in it to drown her. I’m 37 and that scene continues to disturb me. That’s fine, but the word ‘fuck’ being used in a very humorous therapeutic context — to help a man with a stammer unblock a problem — is considered a threat. Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig having his balls smashed in, tied to that chair with no bottom, doesn’t get an ‘R’. Our film censorship is quite bizarre. Violence is acceptable while language is not, no matter the context.”

Now that this film has proved itself, and in fact has jumped to the short list for winning Best Picture at the Oscars, cutting up the original version of the film and re-releasing it is a complicated and risky task. Harvey Weinstein (executive producer/distributor) is ready to make the attempt, but will leave the final decision to Hooper. If Hooper can find a way to re-edit it that he feels stays true to the spirit of the film, then this effort may move forward. According to The Hollywood Reporter, without jumping through the hoops to obtain a special waiver, Weinstein would have to take the movie out of theatres for at least 90 days while it‘s being edited, then re-submit the film for a new rating. Geoffrey Rush (who plays the king’s speech therapist) has weighed in on this issue, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “They should just bleep it. If you cut it, then you’re going to cut one of the key thrills of the film.”

I think it would be a crime to cut up what is almost a perfect movie. The profanity is an important part of the king’s speech therapy, and a necessary “humanizing” moment for him. Plus it was funny and endearing. To cut these scenes out to give it wider appeal strikes me as ridiculous. How much of a boost could the change in ratings really give this film? Do they expect educators to bring their young students in droves to the theatres if it gets a PG rating? The King’s Speech is a work of art, and to butcher it (excuse me, “clean” it up) strikes me as a travesty.