In late January, I ran my review of The King’ Speech, but I recently received an interesting piece about this movie from a screen writer. His name is Frank Davis and he’s working on a script at the moment. His piece is quite worthwhile so I’ve decided to run it as sort of second article or a companion column on this Oscar winning film.
In a conversation with me, Frank said,
“In my opinion, the screenwriter is like the musical composer, the director is like the conductor, and the actors are like the musicians. Now, everyone respects the conductor and the musicians, but Beethoven and Mozart get the most attention/credit.
In movie reviews, it would be nice to occasionally give the screenwriter the credit he/she deserves.”
Giving credit where it is due … and without further delay …
Being a screenwriter is a bruising business. Generally, you lose control of the story the minute someone offers to buy it. According to industry legend, Sylvester Stallone turned down a king‘s ransom for his Rocky script, because he wanted the leading role. Not only was it his first screenplay, he had no notable acting experience. All he had was a good story. And although it didn’t win a screenplay award, Rocky was the highest grossing film of the year and won for Best Picture in 1976.
As the oldest writer to win the Best Original Screenplay Award (at age 73), David Seidler reportedly worked on The King’s Speech for more than half a century. Born in England and raised on Long Island, Seidler’s screenplay is, at least in part, an autobiographical account of his own struggle to overcome a stammer that began when he first arrived in America at the age of 3.
Inspired by his childhood memories of wartime radio broadcasts, Seidler, transformed his personal battle into a universal story about overcoming challenge. On one level, The King’s Speech is a witty behind-the-scenes story of the tongue-tied British monarch who finally finds his voice with the aid of an Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue. But, on a more personal level, this script is the story David Seidler struggled to give voice to all his life. It took Seidler seven decades to say what had been on his mind since his childhood.
Telling the story of two men talking in a room with no action, sex, or special effects is certainly not a surefire strategy to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. But something special happened in the writer’s mind. Following his wife’s suggestion to rewrite the movie as a stage play focused on the relationship between the two main characters, Seidler ultimately delivers three inspiring stories in a compact 96 page script; a king who must rely on the help of a commoner, a credential-lacking practitioner who won’t bow, and the film industry’s continued overvaluation of youth and techno gimmickry and underestimation of movie audiences’ intelligence.
Although film is known as a Director’s medium, in reality everything begins with the words the writer puts on the page. Beautifully supported by the masterful direction of Tom Hooper and the majestic performances of Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, there would be no play to direct and no words to stammer without the screenwriter’s alchemical ability to create life with just computer keystrokes. Reading the screenplay, it’s evident that this is a film that truly came to life in manuscript, long before the director came aboard or the first actors were cast.