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The Biopic in Contemporary Celebrity Culture: A Case Study of The King’s Speech

Abstract: Over the past two decades, the English-speaking world has witnessed a boom of the biographical picture, or biopic. Compared to other film genres, however, the biopic has been under-explored, reflecting a broader reluctance within film scholarship to theorise the genre. Setting out from the phenomenon of the biopic revival, my study is intended to address the following questions: What has given rise to the present state of biopic-mania? How do contemporary biopics differentiate themselves from their precursors? In what way can they be grouped together as a unique cultural phenomenon? Unlike previous studies on the biopic which either treated the genre as a cinematic variant of biography or simply categorised it as a subgenre of historical film, I approach the biopic as a discursive practice coinciding with dominant ideologies of contemporary celebrity culture, particularly Graeme Turner’s notion of “demotic turn”. Through a case study of “The King’s Speech”, This study aims to add a new dimension to the research on contemporary biopic through contextualising the monarchy biopic within the discursive and ideological conditions of celebrity culture, and to shed light on the great potential of the biopic as a revisionist art form to communicate with a world audience in a popular and comprehensible language. 

Keywords: biopic; celebrity culture; demotic turn; ordinariness and greatness

Li Hui