The King’s F* Speech

I recently attended The King’s Speech with my two oldest sons. This was significant for a number of reasons. The last film we attended together was the muddled Tron: Legacy, and I have fond memories of being up all night with my oldest when he couldn’t sleep, watching Toy Story over and over again. So a bit of a milestone – first grown up film. Or rather, first grown up film with no nudity, no violence, no shoot outs, and no explosions. Just an intelligent story well told, with a modest PG rating here in Ontario.

My oldest actually listens when I talk, and knows that a film rated PG in Ontario is limited to three uses of the dreaded F word (yes, I am aware of the irony of censoring a blog on censorship). So, during a scene where the King launches a string of expletives, exceeding the three count limit, my son leaned over and asked how the film managed the PG rating. Fortunately I was ready with the answer: “…guidelines may be set aside at the Panel’s discretion (where social, historic, and documentary significance warrants).” Had the panel not exercised its discretion, children under 14 would need to be accompanied by an adult to see the film. Not a huge problem, perhaps, and doubtless there will be complaints to the board, but still, kudos to the board for exercising common sense. The rating includes a warning that “Language May Offend.”

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) originally rated the film as “15,” roughly the same as Ontario’s “14A,” but the distributor appealed. On appeal, the rating was reduced to “12A,” with the warning: “Contains strong language in a speech therapy context.” Children under 12 would need adult accompaniment to see this film in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, in the United States, the MPAA rated the film “R” for language, meaning anyone under 18 needs adult accompaniment. Quite a difference, and all over the use of one little word.

Do people even care?  Yes, they do. Christian Spotlight on the Movies discusses the swearing, and consequently notes that the film is not recommended for children, even though the reviewer admits that the language is not gratuitous. Commentators on the review also discuss the language.

With all the minor fuss over the language, did it really need to be there? Couldn’t we just gloss over that little incident, for the sake of our children’s precious minds? But if we did that, then we would be guilty of hiding them from the real world, or limiting what adults can view in the name of protecting children. And besides, this language had “social, historic, and documentary significance.” Or did it? Little is known about what Lionel Logue actually said to the King or anyone else. His grandson denies the informality of the relationship as presented in the film. So maybe the swearing was just a cheap laugh….and some free publicity.

Update: The distributors have prepared a version with all that foul language muted, and earned a PG-13 rating from the MPAA.

By trc

Freelance writer, freelance editor, web consultant, and film studies scholar.


  1. I never considered that ratings would be different across the world. I’m not at all surprised that the American standards gave it an R rating over the others, but then you have mindless flicks full of filthy talk getting a pg-13 rating too. An F-bomb here and there doesn’t bother me. My children probably hear it more often at home anyway, LOL.


  2. I don’t think the F-word in films is as damaging as the gratuitous violence, stereotypical representation of women and glorification of material possessions. THAT probably makes the more lasting impression.I would rather my children saw an intelligent, thought-provoking film with swearing than the majority of the box office rot that is churned out these days and aimed at young adults.


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