The James Clayton Column: Hollywood hails the King

James joins the crowd of people who reckon it might just be Colin Firth's year at the Oscars...

Ladies, gentleman and persons of no specifically defined gender, I have seen the future and would like to reveal all. (Because I’m sure you’re desperate to know and because you’re going to love violently rubbing it in my face when all my predictions fail to come through.)

I speak with confidence and assured certainty, even though I haven’t consulted the bathing pre-cogs of Minority Report (you have to make an appointment), the scrolls of the sibyl (I can’t read ancient Greek) or the soothsayer who lives in the swamp (he’s away in Okinawa taking part in a karate tournament and avenging his master’s dead wife or something).

My knowledge of the near future comes on the basis of a theory and, in the post-enlightenment world, theories based on scientific rationale, empirical testing and reasoned analysis are where the truth is found, not in the bottom of the soothsayer’s teacup or scrying crystal.

Thus, I sat down with historical statistics for the Academy Awards, studied them and noted patterns. Having done so, I put forward this conclusion and make this predictive claim: The King’s Speech will sweep the board at the Oscars and Colin Firth will get the Best Actor gong. I’d put my house on it, except I don’t gamble and I don’t have a house. I might build a little one out of Lego so you can kick it in when James Franco steals it single-handedly (literally) for his performance in 127 Hours.

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Taking a quick glance across Oscar ceremonies of times past, I discern a definite trend that can be loosely formulated as ‘British royal family equals big win’. It’s said that portraying disability is the instant ticket to trophy success. I’d also say that playing a British monarch offers the same guarantee and that’s a less controversial topic to discuss.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable pulling the red carpet out from beneath people suffering serious health conditions. Tripping up idiot aristocrats, however, is my idea of fun.

Admittedly, the regal character’s stammer is the focus of the film (the clue’s in the title), so Firth meets both criteria. It’s also true that the actor’s performance as George VI (alias Bertie, a.k.a. Albert Frederick Arthur George Windsor) deserves acclaim and award season glory.

It’s a sensitive and believable portrait of a pressured human being that’s, in turn, humorous and heartfelt. His chemistry with Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter (both also excellent) is astounding, and together they ensure that a film about a speech impediment is way more absorbing and immersive than some of the most set piece-heavy action blockbusters on offer at the multiplex today.

These truths don’t undermine the theory, though. The Oscar buzz precedent for cinematic portrayals of British royal persons is plain to see.

Dame Helen Mirren played incumbent monarch Elizabeth II in The Queen, got the Best Actress award and conquered Hollywood in 2006. Similarly, having got a nomination for that same award in 1997 for portraying Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown, Judi Dench grabbed the Best Supporting Actress prize in 1998, when she became Elizabeth I for Shakespeare In Love.

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As Good Queen Bess, Dench is on screen for about six minutes in a movie that lasts two hours. For less than 500 seconds of pomp in a period frock, she gets the prestige of an Oscar attached to her name forever.

Playing Elizabeth I also got Cate Blanchett two Best Actress nominations and acting as English kings ensured that such men as Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton, Kenneth Branagh and Nigel Hawthorne found themselves on the exclusive Best Actor shortlist.

In light of the historical evidence, I’d say there’s a high chance that, on February 27th, Colin Firth will be crowned king and deliver a speech at the Kodak Theatre for his role in The King’s Speech. It will be a testament to his acting abilities and Hollywood’s infatuation with the British aristocracy. Even if he’d only made a two second cameo as a George VI hallucination in Black Swan, he would’ve still probably claimed Best Supporting Actor.

I put the peculiar affection for the UK’s royals down to the movie world’s subconscious regret that America ever declared itself independent from the sovereign colonial master. Hollywood is now a bit like a fairytale kingdom without a princess or a prince charming. Concepts of blue blood and royalty are stitched into the silver screen dream, but the USA doesn’t have that tradition.

The closest America has ever had to a regal brood is the Kennedys, which possibly explains the death cult around Marilyn Monroe. Without a queen to kneel before, the best you can do is go dizzy over an untouchable blonde glamour girl who possibly slept with the president.

Observe the iconic image of Audrey Hepburn in her Breakfast At Tiffany‘s tiara and you get a further sense of Hollywood’s fetishisation of royalty. It’s like the land of the free is at a loss and wishes for a regal patriarch or matriarch to come and fill the psychic hole in the cinematic fantasy.

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Casting envious glances at the Windsors and at the personality cults of their Cold War rivals – Chairman Mao, Fidel Castro, etc. – it’s no wonder America called Elvis “The King” in order to reassure itself that everything was just rock ‘n’ roll and that a real royal family wasn’t necessary.

Fixed ideals about going jolly jaunting in London for afternoon tea with the Queen still prevail and captivate the popular conscious. Consequently, these weird notions and Hollywood’s obsession with English aristocracy guarantee that Colin Firth will be hailed as Best Actor for his turn as B-B-B-Bertie.

While I’m discussing the Windsor family and speculating on future Academy Award ceremonies, I might as well give you insights into the way 2012 is going to turn out, if the right people take appropriate action. If Prince William’s wedding is packaged and released as a big screen cinema event, it’ll easily yield awards and huge box office figures.

In fact, why don’t they just hand the whole thing over to Hollywood so they can fulfil their royalist fantasies and spare British taxpayers the expense?

Los Angeles gets to script its own fairytale happy ending, James Cameron gets to make the most cinematic wedding video ever and Tim Curry gets the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his sublime, surprising turn as Prince Charles.

Blue blood and red carpet are the perfect Hollywood marriage. I don’t see the order being overthrown and neither does the Karate Soothsayer (he told me in a hallucination). Congratulations, Colin Firth.

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James’ previous column can be found here.

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