Thursday, January 27, 2011

The King's Speech; In Media Res

Post By Kerrie

The list of Academy award nominations was announced this week. The movie The King's Speech topped this list with 12 nominations. I have seen the movie twice already. During each of my trips to the theater, I was drawn in by the opening scene. It was a great example of starting in media res (in the middle of things).

It begins with a screen shot of a big radio microphone from the 1930's. We then watch a BBC broadcaster in a hotel-like room with only a desk with a microphone on it, preparing to speak on the radio. We watch him gargle, spritz his mouth and say a few p-p-p's, t-t-t's, into the microphone to warm up his voice before he goes live, using impeccable diction and grace, "Good afternoon. This is the BBC National Programme and Empire services taking you too Wembley Stadium..."

It then cuts to the cold, gray stairwell of the stadium where we find the Duke of York (Colin Firth) and his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) standing there. The couple isn't saying anything to each other, only gripping each others hands. As the Duke stares straight ahead, we see absolute terror on his face.

A man comes in to announce he has 30 seconds. The Duke heads up the short staircase toward the microphone to deliver a speech to tens of thousands of people in the stadium. As he stammers through the speech we feel uncomfortable and our heart goes out to him.

What I think is brilliant about this opening scene is there is no back story or explanation of why the Duke of York was nervous.Why he had to give a speech. Why he stammers. There was nothing. We were dropped right in to the scene.

The reason I bring this up is that so many times as writers, we feel the need to explain everything that is happening and spell out for the reader exactly why the characters are acting the way they are, what past events have brought the character to this point and how it is all connected. We don't want the reader to misinterpret anything so we share way too much.

We need to remember that all readers bring their own backgrounds and experiences to a story. Each person will have their own take-away and we have no control over that. It is our job to create scenes that move the story along and add depth to our characters, without bogging it down with unnecessary information.

In the opening scene for the King's Speech, part of what is so powerful, is what is not said. There is no dialogue between the Duke and his wife, yet we see that they clearly care for each other and that she is feeling nervous for him as well. I think it would have been easy to clutter this scene with a lot of dialogue with the Duke telling his wife how anxious he is feeling and that he wishes his father, the King, would stop pushing him so much and so on.

But I am happy the screenwriter refrained. The beauty of a well told story, whether it is in a book or on the screen, is that everything unfolds with perfect timing and grace.

Are there some books or movies that you feel do an excellent job of getting right into the story?

Here is the trailer for the movie:

(If you are reading this blog post in email, you can click here for the trailer)

FYI: Here is a link if you want to read the screenplay:


Roland D. Yeomans said...

You're right, of course. Often it is what is NOT said that shouts to us in stories. As when a woman whispers, "I love you." And the man says nothing. You have a lovely blog. Roland

Name: Luana Krause said...

In Media Res..."Amadeus" started out with Salieri slashing his wrists in an attempted suicide and being rushed to the doctor. One of my top ten favorite films of all time.

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