Acclaim for The King’s Speech irks me for any number of reasons. It’s a nothing film that’s been done a thousand times before, but one that was nonetheless attracting Oscar buzz before anyone had even seen it. Now, inexplicably, it’s regarded as a shoo-in for Best Picture ahead of David Fincher’s far superior (and infinitely more relevant) The Social Network.
Does this sound familiar? In John Madden’s Mrs Brown (1997) an aloof monarch deigned to interact with an extremely helpful commoner. The viewer was expected to admire said monarch’s eventual magnanimity, rather than abhorring her initial imbecility. Again, in Stephen Frears’ The Queen (2006) a haughty monarch came up against a minor obstacle and was lauded for eventually overcoming it. In that film, Helen Mirren atones for her mistakes by her husband venture outside and shake hands with a few proles. In The King’s Speech, Colin Firth achieves redemption by reading a short piece of prepared text from a sheet of paper.
Most depressing for republicans is that demand for this sort of inane, anti-democratic melodrama seems to come primarily from across the Atlantic. The US is the birthplace of modern democracy and the place where Martin Luther King defined bigotry as judging a person on any other criteria than the content of their character.
Endorsement of sexist, racist or homophobic views is considered unacceptable, indeed politically toxic – but reveling in the pomp and ceremony of an institution whose entire raison d’etre is prejudice is totally acceptable.
Just over a month from now there’ll be another royal wedding in Britain. The guestlist, we’re told, is more inclusive than in days past. As well as the usual bluebloods (Crown Prince Alexander II of Serbia, Prince Naruhito of Japan, the Sultan of Oman) there’ll also be celebrities (Elton John, David Beckham, Brian O’Driscoll) and members of the British Armed Forces (various wounded and decorated soldiers.)
So what is the criterion for securing an invitation to William and Kate’s special day? If you’re a hereditary monarch, you just need have nothing better on that day. If you’re middle class, you should have risen to the very top of your profession worldwide. And if you’re working class, you need to have gone into the desert and had live ammunition fired at you for eight to twelve months.