The James Clayton Column: The Cussing King’s Speech and Jupiter’s Willy

Is swearing in movies like Kick-Ass and Oscar-friendly The King’s Speech anything to get uptight about? The censors say yes, but James isn’t so sure…

Warning: this column has been rated PG-13 for language. Might be an R if the censors are in a bad mood.

One of the best scenes in The King’s Speech is the moment where Colin Firth’s frustrated Prince Bertie unleashes a torrent of swearwords and releases a river of crudities. As his new speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), so eloquently puts it, “Defecation flows trippingly from the tongue.”

Seeing and hearing someone go into a full flow of shits and fucks is always great fun and the Academy Award-winning explosion of buggery, arse and willy (“and tits”) provides one of the movie’s ‘big grin’ sequences.

It’s also a great scene because of its narrative significance as the point in the plot where the reserved and reluctant royal starts to bond with the teacher who can aid him, accepting his terms and expertise. The sequence offers Bertie’s first opportunity to express his inner frustration and audibly exorcise his woes with gleeful abandon.

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A sympathetic, conflicted character gets cathartic relief and I definitely recommend a course of f-bomb therapy if you’re tongue-tied, tense or tormented by the psychological ills of the world. It’s endorsed by Lionel Logue, the British Royal Family and the entire cast of The Wire. Fuckin’ A.

I don’t know what the scene’s like in the PG-13 Stateside re-release of The King’s Speech, but I can’t imagine it got away uncut when the Weinstein Company edited it for family-friendly exhibition. It’s not the only part of the film that would suffer in a sanitised cut. In fact, I’d argue that the whole idea of repackaging the picture in hope of drawing larger profits from a wider audience is a ludicrous venture that detracts from a perfect enough film and true history.

It’s yet another case of ‘what the heck, Hollywood, are you out of your cussing mind?!’, but there are further interesting issues tied up in this censoring shenanigans. It makes me wonder why people are so sensitive about a select few words specially designated as ‘bad’. The tension surrounding swearing in media texts and the tremendous lengths authorities will go to expunging profanity strike me as odd.

At times, the reaction is totally absurd in cases of comedy classic network-friendly redubs of flicks like Hot Fuzz (“Funk yeah, Mother Hubbard!”) and Scarface (“This town’s like a great big chicken waiting to get plucked.”)

Looking to recent releases, most of the upset around Kick-Ass seemed to come from Hit-Girl’s use of the word ‘c**t’. Comic book violence and kill-crazy 11-year-old vigilantes provoked moral guardians, but Chloë Moretz’s dirty preteen tongue appeared to send them right over the edge of the rage-o-meter.

As an interesting parallel to the R-rated Kick-Ass (15 in the UK), Sucker Punch was released as a PG-13 (or 12A). Zack Snyder cut profanities to please censors, but it remains a disturbing flick, with seriously seamy overtones of sexual abuse, exploitation, mental illness and violence.

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With studios behaving oddly in pursuit of lucrative family audiences and certification boards making baffling decisions, I’m left questioning mainstream values. The implication is that it’s fine to put scantily clad young women through tremendous physical and psychological abuse on screen and show it to children, as long as they’re supervised by an adult. If said girl was to say “fuck” or, perish the thought, “c**t”, however, then the movie’s unsuitable and may have a dangerous effect on them.

Such a skewed moral value system is even stranger, considering that these words aren’t ever really going to hurt anyone. What’s more, profanities are the stuff of actual, common everyday human communication. Real life is all about fucking and shit, and films reflect that. Human life has been all about fucking and shit and pissy-bugger-arse-bastardry since the beginning of history, before the invention of cinema, literature or any concept of ‘art’.

That’s part of the reason why the TV mini-series Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena is so superb. Like Horrible History books, it acknowledges the truth about the past: that it was bloody disgusting and depraved.

Alongside the generous lashings of sex, violence and dirt, there’s a liberal amount of glorious profanity. This being a period drama from pre-Christian times, alongside the mass of fucks we get pagan gems like “Jupiter’s cock!” as bonus blasphemies. It’s an absolute riot, great writing and production values polished off with the entertaining colour of all the excess.

It’s only right that Gods Of The Arena throws Jupiter’s cock down the audience’s throat every so often to ensure it feels real and authentic. Life in the urban centres of the Roman Republic was not one of cleanliness and purity. In fact, it was one of visible ordure, bloody violence and muck, and the cultural standards, attitudes and popular beliefs were worlds away from our modern mindsets.

It irks me watching old Hollywood epics where grandstanding hams like Laurence Olivier and Charlton Heston stand pristine in bright costumes, backed by painted sets and shot in soft focus. They may be beloved classic movies, but as chronicles of past events they are camp creampuffs that look pretty, but contain nothing but junk. They can’t possibly be good for you, and Charlton Heston is a crap historian.

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This is why I prefer recent flicks like medieval movies Black Death and Ironclad, or Roman capers Centurion and The Eagle, which revel in the nastiness and true brutality of the past. It’s about getting a rich and raw sense of older epochs as well as a gratuitous gore fix.

I reckon that many critics who dismiss movies and TV programmes like Gods Of The Arena and The Tudors as ‘sensationalised’ aren’t comfortable with the human condition. They’re denying the blatant truth that the history of the human race is dark, dirty and marked with all these horrifying spots that need to be seen and remembered, rather than embarrassingly covered up.

The mucky face of the human race also undoubtedly has a dirty mouth. People curse and have done since ancient times. From Roman warriors to kings of England, to today’s teenage girls and so on. It’s not exceptional. It’s the norm, and if the norm is nasty, then, well, that’s human life and the culture that we’ve created. It hasn’t been created by movies like Kick-Ass or an unedited cut of The King’s Speech, profanities intact.

Getting uptight about expletives is a waste of time, energy and often serves no purpose but to generate pseudo-outrage and push misinformed moral agendas. I’ll take freedom of expression, the original artwork and real human truth, thank you. Fuck censorship.

James’ previous column can be found here.

You can reach James on his Twitter feed here, see his film cartoons here and more sketches here.

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