Questions of truth circle Oscar favorites

By Jake Coyle

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 26 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

In this film publicity image released by The Weinstein Company, Guy Pearce portrays King Edward VIII in a scene from, "The King's Speech."

The Weinstein Company, Laurie Sparham, Associated Press

The Oscar race for best picture is widely expected to come down to two films, both of which are dogged by questions of veracity.

Neither "The King's Speech," which led with 12 nominations, nor "The Social Network," which reaped eight nominations, have been held back by any discussion over their truthfulness. They are two of the most acclaimed movies of the year and each has performed solidly at the box office.

But the days leading up to the Feb. 27 Academy Awards will likely include much parsing over the films' debatable accuracy.

Myth-making, of course, has long been Hollywood's trade. But "The King's Speech" — for sanitizing a sensitive history — and "The Social Network" — for dramatizing a freshly contemporary tale — offer interesting cases.

Questions over "The King's Speech" have been more muted, but sounded loudest in England, where the country's royal history is better known. The film stars Colin Firth as the stammering King George VI, who reluctantly took the throne after his brother, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) abdicated.

To be sure, "The King's Speech" is primarily a story of personal triumph and friendship (Geoffrey Rush plays George's speech therapist). But its backdrop is World War II and the pacifist times leading up to it.

Some have criticized the film for not representing Edward as the Nazi sympathizer he was. Winston Churchill (a briefly seen Timothy Spall) was also sometimes blinded by his friendship to Edward. George, too, at one time supported Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement toward Hitler.

In a column Monday for Slate.com, Christopher Hitchens wrote that the movie "perpetrates a gross falsification of history," applying "Vaseline" to the lens to hide the more sordid truths of the royals and appeasement.

"This is not a detail but a major desecration of the historical record — now apparently gliding unopposed toward a baptism by Oscar," wrote Hitchens.

The New Republic judged the film "inaccurate, entirely misleading, and, in its own small way, morally dubious."

This debate has yet to dominate the conversation on "The King's Speech," which has typically focused on Firth's fine performance. Even if the film's politics are lacking, Firth's George VI seems to be true to his personality.

"The Social Network," on the other hand, has already gone through much hand-wringing over its accuracy since being released in October. At its debut, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin declared, "The movie's true," while Facebook labeled it "fiction."

Sorkin did not have the cooperation of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) in penning his script, and his depiction is critical. Zuckerberg is shown as a brilliant visionary, but also a power-hungry, back-stabbing hacker motivated by social acceptance and girls.

Director David Fincher has said accuracy is important, but that the stakes are less for "The Social Network" than they were for his 2007 film, "Zodiac," about the San Francisco serial killer.

"When you're talking about a movie like 'Zodiac,' you're talking about people who are shot and stabbed to death," Fincher said. "And when you're talking about this movie, you're talking about people who had their feelings hurt. It's a sliding scale."

Zuckerberg has pointed holes in the film, claiming that it got his personality and motivation completely wrong. He has been with the same girlfriend since before starting Facebook.

"It's pretty interesting to see what parts they got right and what parts they got wrong," Zuckerberg said on "60 Minutes."

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