Can ‘Speech’ Keep Its Mojo?
The Weinstein Co. drama, having edged out early favorite ‘The Social Network,’ fends off backlash.
When the final envelope is opened at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, will The King’s Speech’s coronation be inevitable?
It’s looking that way. In the wake of two winning weekends in which the Weinstein Co. release took top honors from the Producers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America and then topped it with the SAG Award for best film ensemble, Speech could say it has history on its side — in more ways than one. Last year, The Hurt Locker captured just two of those three awards — SAG threw its weight behind Inglourious Basterds — and still managed to pull off a best picture win at the Oscars.
Certainly, master Oscar campaigner Harvey Weinstein played the SAG card brilliantly. Having already mailed screeners to the guild’s full 100,000-plus membership, when Oscar nominations were announced Jan. 25 — Speech led the field with 12 — his crew had its talking points in order. (An Oscar campaign, like its political counterpart, benefits from consistent messaging.)
With the SAG polls still open, Weinstein pointed to the movie’s ensemble cast — “our ensemble of amazing actors” — as key to its success. And though Geoffrey Rush had issued a statement in which he noted that the movie “struck such a rich resonant chord with audiences of all ages,” team Weinstein issued an update on the actor’s behalf later in the day in which Rush added, “it was a great privilege to work with such superb actors.”
But don’t bet it all on Speech just yet because there have been years where the precursor awards don’t pan out. Consider 1996: Apollo 13, from director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer, blasted off with wins from the DGA, PGA and SAG and arrived at the 68th Academy Awards with nine nominations. But it went home with just two trophies — for film editing and sound mixing — as Braveheart rode to a best picture victory.
Could that bit of history repeat itself? There won’t be too many more tea leaves to read between now and the Oscars on Feb. 27. Speech was not nominated by the Writers Guild, which holds its awards dinner Feb. 5, because it was not filmed under a guild contract. It’s sure to pick up a king’s ransom of BAFTAs on Feb. 13. And then the ACE Eddie Awards on Feb. 19, at which film editors will decide on the best edited dramatic film, becomes a critical indicator.
Right now, the biggest obstacle Speech faces is the inevitable backlash. Even if “backlash” is more or less a media invention, as new narratives emerge, opinion on the frontrunners can change quickly. Opponents eat it up. And it can have influence.
In Speech’s case, that process has already begun. Writing for Slate.com, Christopher Hitchens accused the movie of “a gross falsification of history” by mischaracterizing Winston Churchill’s role in the abdication of Edward VIII and failing to show that George VI supported Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement. Pinballing around the blogosphere, that’s led to charges that George VI was anti-Semitic and not worthy of the Academy’s validation.
Rejecting such claims, Speech director Tom Hooper says: “Listen, I made John Adams — I care a lot about history. We weren’t making a movie about King George’s dealings with Nazis. We were only focused on his speech, up till 1937. It’s no accident these stories broke the day of the Oscar nominations.” A gentlemanly Brit, he isn’t pointing fingers.
As far as the supposed rivalry between Speech and The Social Network goes, he adds: “A sure winner at the Oscars is not exciting for the media. I think the contrived or uncontrived rivalry is actually good for the movie business. I’m not under any illusions. We are in the ‘entertaining’ business.”