International Oscar Showdown 2011 — The King’s Speech vs In A Better World

The 83rd Academy Awards winners for Best Picture and Best International Feature Film were The King’s Speech and In A Better World
Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech

All the world’s a stage

Incidentally, The King’s Speech was the first in a run of four out of five Best-Picture winners that featured acting as a saving grace, or that glorified Hollywood: most notably Argo, in which a movie literally saves the day. It’s admittedly less prominent here, but Lionel is both the protagonist’s saviour and an enthusiastic am-dram actor, using his experience from the stage to coach the Duke.

“In the past, all a King had to do was look respectable in uniform and not fall off his horse. Now we must invade people’s homes and ingratiate ourselves with them. This family’s been reduced to those lowest, basest of all creatures. We’ve become actors!”

Acting royalty

While we’re on the subject of acting, the performances are strong across the board, from Bonham-Carter’s heart-of-gold, spoon-of-silver portrayal of the subsequent Queen Mother; to Gambon’s rendition both as impatient father and later as muddled old man signing away his authority.

The real speech by King George VI on the 3rd September 1939 announcing war with Germany

vnen above

By contrast, the advantage of fiction is you can build a story around a theme and make every element inform or scrutinise that theme, without the frivolous dalliance of historical accuracy to muddy your ideas. That is precisely how Danish director Susanne Bier developed In A Better World, or Hævnen to give it its Danish name. Bier wanted to represent the perception among Scandinavians that they are secure and safe, in an idyllic society of tax and healthcare, law and order, but also how that safety is a thin veneer.

Susanne Bier’s In A Better World

Turn the other cheek

Christian’s sense of schoolyard justice, of earning respect and defending one’s honour, is completely warped by his grief, and Elias’s father does his best to steer the children back onto a path of non-violence. To satisfy the boys’ sense of burning injustice, Anton confronts the mechanic, and is slapped again, but claims victory by demonstrating the thick-headed idiocy of the yob. Who is the real man? What kind of a man attacks someone in front of children?

Lay it on thick

Though the exploration of pacifism and masculinity is often extremely powerful, there is a shallowness to the story in the way it brings everything to a neat conclusion. For instance, while it is cathartic to see Big Man thwarted, you are left to wonder who will fill the power vacuum he leaves behind, and what recompense might his replacement seek for their hitherto leader’s demise? Will the aid camp be attacked? Will the local population suffer further brutal murders? Does violence not beget violence?

Retrospective result

It’s not too hard to pick a winner this time. Both these films juxtaposed naïve innocence against unspeakable savagery, but while Hævnen was arguably trite in its tackling of the theme, at least there was plenty of meat on the bone. Meanwhile, The King’s Speech is a competent, faintly humorous and well-acted period drama that otherwise elicited in me very little emotional response.

Writer of stories, movie reviews, and sundry other whims. Also a sub-editor, so you are welcome to shout at me about typos.

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