Christopher Hitchens‘ 1.24 Slate piece about The King’s Speech is not some rash smear job. It’s a sensible and researched argument that deserves a read by every Oscar blogger and Academy member. He’s a Brit who knows his British history — he’s Christopher effin’ Hitchens — and he’s explaining quite simply and clearly that King George VI (a.k.a. “Bertie”), former British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and the Windsors all leaned toward appeasement at a crucial time in British history. So’s what’s with all the pride and glory at the end of The King’s Speech?
“It is suggested [in The King’s Speech] that, once some political road bumps have been surmounted and some impediments in the new young monarch’s psyche have been likewise overcome, Britain is herself again, with Winston Churchill and the king at Buckingham Palace and a speech of unity and resistance being readied for delivery.
“Here again, the airbrush and the Vaseline are partners. When Chamberlain managed to outpoint the coalition of the Labour Party, the Liberal Party, and the Churchillian Tories and to hand to his friend Hitler the majority of the Czechoslovak people, along with all that country’s vast munitions factories, he received an unheard-of political favor. Landing at Heston Airport on his return from Munich, he was greeted by a royal escort in full uniform and invited to drive straight to Buckingham Palace. A written message from King George VI urged his attendance ‘so that I can express to you personally my most heartfelt congratulations…[T]his letter brings the warmest of welcomes to one who, by his patience and determination, has earned the lasting gratitude of his fellow countrymen throughout the Empire.’
“Chamberlain was then paraded on the palace balcony, saluted by royalty in front of cheering crowds. Thus the Munich sell-out had received the royal assent before the prime minister was obliged to go to Parliament and justify what he had done. The opposition forces were checkmated before the game had begun.
“Britain does not have a written Constitution, but by ancient custom the royal assent is given to measures after they have passed through both houses of Parliament. So Tory historian Andrew Roberts, in his definitively damning essay ‘The House of Windsor and the Politics of Appeasement,’ is quite correct to cite fellow scholar John Grigg in support of his view that by acting as they did to grant pre-emptive favor to Chamberlain, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter to you) ‘committed the most unconstitutional act by a British Sovereign in the present century.’
“The private letters and diaries of the royal family demonstrate a continued, consistent allegiance to the policy of appeasement and to the personality of Chamberlain. King George’s forbidding mother wrote to him, exasperated that more people in the House of Commons had not cheered the sellout. The king himself, even after the Nazi armies had struck deep north into Scandinavia and clear across the low countries to France, did not wish to accept Chamberlain’s resignation. He ‘told him how grossly unfairly he had been treated, and that I was genuinely sorry.’
“Discussing a successor, the king wrote that ‘I, of course, suggested [Lord] Halifax.’ It was explained to him that this arch-appeaser would not do and that anyway a wartime coalition could hardly be led by an unelected member of the House of Lords. Unimpressed, the king told his diary that he couldn’t get used to the idea of Churchill as prime minister and had greeted the defeated Halifax to tell him that he wished he had been chosen instead. All this can easily be known by anybody willing to do some elementary research.
“In a few months, the British royal family will be yet again rebranded and relaunched in the panoply of a wedding. Terms like ‘national unity’ and ‘people’s monarchy’ will be freely flung around. Almost the entire moral capital of this rather odd little German dynasty is invested in the post-fabricated myth of its participation in ‘Britain’s finest hour.’
“In fact, had it been up to them, the finest hour would never have taken place. So this is not a detail but a major desecration of the historical record — now apparently gliding unopposed toward a baptism by Oscar.”