Pardon “The King's” French

The R rating for the Oscar-nominated film should stand for “ridiculous”

Talk about a royal pain in the you-know-where.

The Los Angeles Times reports that movie mogul Harvey Weinstein is mulling editing "The King's Speech," which has been nominated for a top 12 Academy Awards, in hopes of knocking down the film's R rating to a more box office-friendly PG-13.

We find the whole thing absurd – not Weinstein's idea, mind you, but that the film was rated R in the first place. There's no violence, no nudity, no sex in “The King’s Speech” (subtle mentions of King Edward VIII’s affair with Wallis Simpson are about as randy as the movie gets).

But the film, a fictionalized account of how King George VI overcame his stutter on the eve of World War II with the help of an unconventional speech therapist, contains brief blasts of four-letter words. The profanity – shouted by the tongue-tied king in frustration – is hardly gratuitous and is crucial to one of the fine film's most powerful moments (good luck with the editing job on that one).

The flick, which is rooted in history (even if its historical accuracy has been challenged) seems less likely to warp the minds of our youth than some of the violence-and-sex-filled fare that gets PG-13 ratings – or shows up on TV.

It’s almost comical that Weinstein’s reported plan to sanitize the film for wide release after the Academy Awards on Feb. 27 comes amid the controversy over the raunchy MTV show "Skins." The program’s depiction of teenage sex is so over the top that the network's executives reportedly fear they could face child pornography charges if some scenes aren’t excised.

The f-bomb and its variants have been dropped before in PG-13 movies (last year’s amusing “Date Night” is one recent example), so we’re not sure what the Motion Picture Association of America’s problem is with “The King’s Speech.” But it never fails to astound us that words seem to rankle some folks far more than potentially disturbing or inappropriate images.

We’ll cite one of our favorite quotes from the late George Carlin, whose creative use of language caused him some grief over the years: “They’re only words. It’s the context that counts. It’s the user, the intention behind the user that makes them good or bad. Words are completely neutral. The words are innocent.”

Context would seem to be king in the case of “The King’s Speech,” whose R rating should stand for “ridiculous.”

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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