"If you want to send a message," Samuel Goldwyn famously told his screenwriters, "go to Western Union." He was determined that his movies would be about entertainment, not politics. Now you would have better luck trying to send a message by Pony Express, since the telegram has gone the way of buggy whips and high-button shoes. But via cell phone, e-mail or Twitter, the old movie mogul's point is still a valid caution.
The movies nominated for the Academy Awards on Sunday are mostly about entertainment -- hot buttered popcorn, not hot-button politics. Two of the leading contenders for best picture, "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech," say more about changing mores and manners than about the price of oil or how to rein in out-of-control government spending. The revolution in how we communicate with one another is told in the stories of two men separated by nearly a century, one a college kid and the other a king, both flawed but triumphant in confrontation with the world.
In very different ways and in very different times, King George VI, "Bertie" to his royal friends, and Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, are emblematic of their time and place: "the king vs. the geek."
"The King's Speech" is a costume drama set in that innocent time shortly before World War II, and is a bit glib for anyone who remembers or knows much of the history of the time. But knocking the British throne when handsome Prince William and pretty Kate Middleton are preparing for their nuptials is work for a churl. This is a movie, as Joe Queenan observes in the Wall Street Journal, "that the public is officially forbidden to dislike." The king is as miserable as a commoner with the affliction of stuttering, which not only afflicts his sense of self, but renders him unlikely to inspire the British in a time of approaching war.
Disabled by nature, he also had the bad luck to stand second in line to a flashy (and somewhat goofy) playboy brother who gives up the throne for the love of a twice-divorced minor-league Baltimore socialite. Riding to Bertie's rescue is Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist who breaks down the social distance between uncommon commoner and would-be king. Lionel shows Bertie that he doesn't have to practice his rhetoric like Demosthenes, speaking with a mouthful of marbles, but can reach out to his people guided by a robust professional who knows how to teach the King's English.
Much of the entertainment comes through the dialogue between the ill-at-ease man of propriety and the knock 'em, sock 'em earthiness of a man of the people. When the king finally finds his voice, he speaks with passionate intensity in a radio address announcing that England has declared war against Nazi Germany.
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