The Oscars: King Colin Firth reigns supreme

The King’s Speech had a fantastic time at this year’s Oscars. The film took four top awards and as Arts Editor Andrew Clarke discovers, the film won against a very tough field.

Never before have I been so happy to admit: “I was wrong!” This was the result that we all wanted but I truly believed that we would not get.

The King’s Speech indeed is a worthy winner of four of the biggest and most important Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay – indeed it is the right result but after The King’s Speech cleaned up at The BAFTAs, I assumed, based on past performance that the Oscars would keep the world in balance and Hollywood would reward their own by presenting Best Picture to David Fincher’s The Social Network.

But, it reaffirms our belief in the world to see a small scale British film about one man’s personal battle against a crippling disability triumph over a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, even a critically acclaimed one like The Social Network.

The triumph of The King’s Speech is particularly impressive because this year the Best Picture category was an exceedingly rich one. Of the ten nominees (The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, Winter’s Bone, True Grit) only two The Social Network and Toy Story 3 were traditional studio pictures. Even big budget science fiction epics like Inception were funded by the independent sector.

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Although The King’s Speech and The Social Network were the front runners, it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that either Toy Story 3 or Black Swan could make off with the top prize and no one could truly complain because both are outstanding movies.

Indeed Toy Story 3, could easily have been a dark horse. Toy Story 3 could have been rewarded in the same way that the final instalment of Lord of the Rings was. This latest Pixar film was not only the end of a much-loved franchise, it was a critically acclaimed, game-changing series of films and Hollywood loves to reward innovation and success.

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Traditionally, animated films are not usually nominated for Best Picture. Indeed there have only been a total of three nominations in all of Oscars 83 years – Beauty and the Beast, Up and now Toy Story 3. Even Walt Disney’s groundbreaking Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was only treated to a special honorary award (including seven miniature Oscars).

The King’s Speech victory represents the all-too-rare triumph of excellent film-making and terrific story-telling in the face of vast budgets and empty spectacle. It will hopefully remind film producers and studio chiefs that films about people and the problems we all face in our lives still have an audience – and a large audience at that.

It also reaffirmed the age-old adage that without a script you don’t have a movie. David Seidler, a writer in his 70s, penned his screenplay from personal experience. He too was a stutterer and can remember King George VI’s valiant battle to make himself understood. He made the story live because he made the audience care – not because the sufferer was a king but because he was a recognisable man, a man brought vividly to life by Colin Firth and frustrated by a condition that appeared to be incurable.

This is why the film has had such appeal overseas where there isn’t the nostalgia for an old Britain that we hanker after, here.

The Hollywood studios should take notice that with the exception of Inception all the films (including Toy Story 3) were about real life issues or very human stories.

Triumph over adversity always works well on screen and if an inspiring personal journey has some basis in reality then so-much the better. The King’s Speech wasn’t the only movie based on truth. Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours told the astonishing story of extreme sports climber Aron Ralston and how he had to severe his right arm to escape from a remote chasm in a mountainous region of Utah.

This year was an outstanding year for the British film industry. Along with Tom Hooper, who picked up Best Director, and Danny Boyle, we also had Christopher Nolan’s highly individual, British-based futuristic thriller Inception deservedly sweeping up four of the technical awards – Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Sounding Editing and Best Visual Effects.

Christopher Nolan was also nominated for Best Screenplay along with Mike Leigh and David Seidler but bizarrely, for a film with such an individual vision, not for Best Director. You have to wonder what was the reason for this oversight? It’s hard not to interpret this as some sort of rebuke. Inception is an astonishing piece of work and is clearly the vision of a virtuoso film-maker and quite frankly it is an insult that he wasn’t nominated.

As it turned out, the lack of a nomination was academic. The director’s award, like the Best Picture category, was always going to be a two horse race. Although the Best Director Oscar usually goes hand-in-hand with the Best Picture award, it doesn’t always follow. This year we had the situation where David Fincher, a well known, highly regarded director of a critically acclaimed movie was up against the virtually unknown, Tom Hooper.

Although, if you look at Hooper’s CV, he doesn’t deserve to be unknown, having directed the Brian Clough bio-pic The Damned United, TV mini-series Longford and Prime Suspect. It’s good that good film-making can still over-ride personal friendships and professional affiliations. It shouldn’t make a difference but Los Angeles is an industry town and we have seen that the awards do favour those who live in town rather than film-makers who fly off to New York or the wilds of Wisconsin when shooting ends.

Nevertheless, 2011 was always going to be Colin Firth’s year. Even though Best Picture Oscar was an open race, Colin Firth was the closest thing the Oscars have ever got to an automatic shoo-in. Having lost for A Single Man last year, there would have been a riot, had he not been declared Best Actor. Delivering a superb, measured performance is not a guarantee of victory but having both the Rain Man and Judi Dench factors is.

The Rain Man factor is best described as playing a character with a distinctive disability while the Judi Dench factor is defined as a well loved figure losing out one year but then scooping the prize the next.

Colin, epitomises what I believe the Americans love about us Brits. We are understated, consummate professionals. We are modest, self-effacing and damned good at what we do. This is why half of Hollywood is populated by British film professionals – both in-front-of and behind-the-camera. This is also why British studios continue to thrive and turn out top flight movies. What we need now is for our own country to invest in British movie-making. We are responsible for some of the biggest films ever made the James Bond, Harry Potter and Pink Panther franchises and yet all the investment and all the profits flow back to Hollywood.

Perhaps our success at the Oscars will encourage investors to trust our film-making expertise; then the profits will stay in this country and can be ploughed back into future production.

We should resist saying “the British are coming” but have shown that the British film industry is still a force to be reckoned with. Let’s build on this and fashion ourselves a homegrown, long-term future.

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