#$%&, @#$%, #$&* ! The uninhibited stream of four-letter words might be the best line in the Oscar-winning screenplay of The King’s Speech, not for its profane content, but for the raw emotion Best Actor winning Colin Firth puts behind it, portraying a Prince (and future King) of England letting down the wall of propriety that has separated him from the common folk.
But apparently The Weinstein Company, which holds all distribution rights to the film, does not agree.
Last Friday, the company released an edited, PG-13 version of The King’s Speech, hoping to cash in on the audience that might have missed the formerly R-rated film when it originally came out.
Originally, the F-word appeared 12 times in David Seidler’s screenplay about King George VI’s stuttering problem.
Seven of those 12 instances occur during the King’s rage-filled chain of expletives incited by his speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who notices the King doesn’t stammer when he curses.
But according to the MPAA ratings board, the F-word can only be used once in a PG-13 film.
Thus, this curse-laden scene is stripped of all its fabulous energy as Firth quietly utters the F-word once, and the rest of the words are awkwardly overdubbed with slightly milder invectives.
Last month, the MPAA granted the Weinstein Company a waiver to re-release the film without having to wait the required 90 days from when the R-rated version was pulled from theaters.
The company’s President of Theatrical Distribution and Home Entertainment, Erik Lomis, professed the company’s gratitude to the MPAA saying, “The action enables those to whom [the film] speaks most directly — young people who are troubled by stuttering, bullying and similar trials — to see it.”
This claim that The Weinstein Company was primarily motivated by helping the American youth is misleading at best.
When producers fight for a PG-13 rating, either in terms of censoring a film or arguing with the MPAA, it is generally understood to be for financial reasons. R-rated movies are often thought to suffer because they lose out on younger viewers.
The Weinstein Company is simply taking this common industry dilemma to a new level. The King’s Speech has already been wildly successful with its R rating, but the company is milking its Oscar darling for all it’s worth.
Even on a business level, though, the decision is still perplexing.
The King’s Speech is a wonderful film that should be enjoyed by audiences of all ages. But it’s not as if parents were expecting crude sex scenes or violence from the R-rated restrained British drama. Many probably had no problem bringing the kids along.
And it is extremely unlikely that even a PG-13 period piece about the British royal family will win over the coveted and lucrative Twilight demographic: 14-year-old girls eager to return to the theater over and over on their parents’ dime.
It might not seem like such a grave crime to censor a few words in a couple scenes, but The Weinstein Company’s unprecedented marketing move shows a willingness to compromise artistic integrity for profit. This is ironic, as Owen Gleiberman pointed out in Entertainment Weekly, considering Harvey Weinstein’s well-deserved reputation for creative quality.
Mere months ago, Weinstein personally defended a controversial sex scene in last December’s originally NC-17-rated Blue Valentine, convincing the MPAA to give it an R rating without censorship.
With The King’s Speech, though, the Weinsteins even disrespected the filmmakers in their quest for financial success.
Director Tom Hooper told Entertainment Weekly in January that he “wouldn’t support cutting the film in any way,” and he had no part in the re-editing process.
Likewise, Firth, Rush and Bonham Carter have all stated they don’t believe the film needed to be changed.
In one of the film’s final scenes, the newly crowned King prepares to deliver his eponymous speech to a country on the brink of war, and finds his stutter returning.
He uses a technique Logue taught him to ease the stammer, dropping a rapid succession of F-bombs and “buggers” into his practice recitation of the grave speech.
It is a moment laced with tension and suspense, perfectly punctuated with the humor of improper language.
Will replacing an F-word with an S-word really ruin a great film? Hopefully not. But it’s a shame The Weinstein Company’s fingerprints will be so unnecessarily visible on the screen.
Cara Dickason is a senior majoring in English and cinema-critical studies. Her column, “Cine File,” runs Tuesdays.