Image Credit: Laurie SparhamHarvey Weinstein is one of the savviest movie marketers in Hollywood history. For over two decades, he has proven himself capable of selling edgy, challenging, R-rated films to the masses, including three former Oscar nominees for Best Picture: The Crying Game, Pulp Fiction, and Shakespeare In Love, which actually won the award. To boost the fortunes of his latest contender, Weinstein is mulling a provocative gambit. According to The Los Angeles Times, The Weinstein Company is talking to Tom Hooper, director of The King’s Speech, about removing some of the R-rated words from his film — newly crowned with 12 Oscar nominations and blazing with heat following its Producers Guild of America win last weekend — so that the distributor can fully maximize the movie’s awards hype with a more accessible PG-13 rating. Weinstein’s intention is to allow the R-rated version — which to date has grossed a not-too-shabby $59 million — to continue playing in the theaters until the Oscar ceremony on Feb. 27. The PG-13 version would be released soon thereafter. We presume the R-rated version would remain in circulation, as well.
The irony is rather delicious. A movie about an English royal who must correct a speech impediment so he can give a speech to mobilize his people to action in wartime is mulling a plan to adjust its own language to mobilize more moviegoers to go see the film. But is the irony too good to be true?
I find it odd that Weinstein doesn’t want to release the PG-13 version until after Oscar season. The window for capitalizing on Oscar nods is now, not later — especially if The King’s Speech comes up empty on Oscar night. So why wait? Maybe because there’s a chance this PG-13 play could backfire. Weinstein must surely know that he runs the risk of negative press by sanitizing The King’s Speech in order to make a few dollars more. In fact, I think the stigma of a censored King’s Speech might actually discourage moviegoers from seeing the movie. The people that I know who haven’t yet seen The King’s Speech but want to (now, more than ever) want to see the real thing, not the safe-and-sane kid-friendly version. (Do kids even want to see a kid-friendly version? If they aren’t interested in seeing/sneaking into The King’s Speech in all its potty-mouthed glory, I doubt they’d be enticed by a less sexy alternative.) [ADDITION AT 3:56 PM: True, since the R-rated version would most likely still be available in theaters, moviegoers would have a choice between options. Maybe that makes it better. Maybe not. Regardless, it would set a provocative precedent. How do you feel about the idea of studios releasing multiple versions of their films, each version tailored to different audiences with different moral standards or sensitivities?]
Anyway, if Weinstein put the PG-13 edition of The King’s Speech out now, he’d be putting the film’s Oscar-nominated talent — including Best Actor frontrunner Colin Firth and supporting actor candidates Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter — in the awkward position of answering questions about his decision if not defending the decision in the weeks to come. Said questions might include:
Do you think the studio sold out your movie?
Do you think this move diminishes the film and your performance?
Are you worried that Oscar voters might think less of the film and your performance because you don’t have the sack to call bulls–t on all of this?
No, I don’t think Harvey Weinstein would do that to his actors. After all, he has a reputation for being a very, very, very, very, very nice man! Better, then, to wait and release the PG-13 version after the Oscars… assuming he’s actually serious about releasing a PG-13 version at all. Truth is, Weinstein gains a great deal by just letting people think he’s thinking about it, whether he’s sincere about this or not. For starters, it gets all of us talking about The King’s Speech. More, it gets us talking about the film in a way that corrects a potential image problem that might be currently limiting the movie’s box office. What? The King’s Speech is R-rated? Do you mean to tell that this film — which I perceived to be some stuffy British period piece — is full of edge and rough language, just like The King’s Speech chief Oscar rivals, The Social Network, The Fighter, and Black Swan? I had no idea! I am now much more interested!
What would make all of this even better for The Weinstein Company’s bottom line is if in the weeks to come, Hooper, Firth, Rush, and Bonham Carter use their press time to make it quite clear that they’re not big fans of Weinstein’s intention to snip-snip the salty stuff, and maybe even express hope that he reconsiders the plan. The entertainment press will seize on their quotes, frame the story as an Art vs. Commerce clash, and the upshot will be that the director and cast will look like heroes to both moviegoers and Oscar voters for defending the integrity of their film. Cut to: Harvey Weinstein announcing he won’t release a PG-13 version to theaters, but — with Hooper’s blessing — make a PG-13 version available to schools, and possibly on DVD, as well. Look for said announcement to come shortly after Oscar voting ends.