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'The King's Speech' Tells True Story of How British Monarch Overcame Stutter

Colin Firth as King George VI and Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen Mother in Tom Hooper's film THE KING'S SPEECH.
Colin Firth as King George VI and Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen Mother in Tom Hooper's film THE KING'S SPEECH.

There is 'Oscar buzz' for The King's Speech. a new film that tells the true story of how Britain's King George VI overcame a debilitating stutter to inspire his nation during World War II.

"In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in our history, I send to every household of my people, both at home and overseas, this message."

The hesitations in an archival recording of a 1939 broadcast from Buckingham Palace give only a hint of how difficult it was for King George VI to speak in public because of his lifelong stammer. Even before he was thrust onto the throne and into the limelight when his brother Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, every effort at therapy had failed …until his wife Elizabeth, using the fictitious name "Johnson," found the shabby studio of Australian Lionel Logue.

"My husband has seen everyone, to no avail. I'm awfully afraid he has given up hope."

"Well, we need to have your hubby pop by. He can give me his personal details, I'll make a frank appraisal and then we'll take it from there."

"Doctor, I don't have a 'hubby.' We don't 'pop.' Nor do we ever talk about our private lives. No, you must come to us."

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Johnson: my game, my turf, my rules."
"And what if my husband were the Duke of York."

Helena Bonham Carter plays the "Queen Mum" and Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush co-stars as the unorthodox, but ultimately successful therapist Logue.

Gefforey Rush as Lionel Logue in Tom Hooper's film THE KING'S SPEECH.
Gefforey Rush as Lionel Logue in Tom Hooper's film THE KING'S SPEECH.

"Part of Lionel's technique was 'I'm treating you, the man, not you the King' and he insisted on that level of equality," explains Rush. "A lot of the therapy was getting the Duke of York and, subsequently as he became, George VI to drop that royal mask and find out who he was as a person."

"What will I call you?"

"Your Royal Highness, then 'sir' after that."

"How about 'Bertie?'"

"Only my family uses that."

"In here it's better if we're equals."

"If we were equals, I wouldn't be here. I'd be at home with my wife and no one would give a damn."

"I kept saying to people [who would ask] what's this film about and I would say 'well, it's about two middle-aged men who become friends;' but I'd say to the producers 'don't put that on the poster because no one will come.' But that is the essence of it," Rush says.

Colin Firth stars as the monarch who, until meeting Logue, had little experience with friendship because of his stammer and his royal station. Firth believes that, in an odd way, "The King's Speech" tells a universal story.

Colin Firth as King George VI in Tom Hooper's film THE KING'S SPEECH.
Colin Firth as King George VI in Tom Hooper's film THE KING'S SPEECH.

"It's funny to say that about a member of the Royal family when none of us are one or can possibly know what that is like," notes Firth, "but I think what it has done is taken issues that apply to absolutely everybody and used this convention to heighten those things. Isolation is universal. It doesn't matter how close you are to your family, how many good friends you have [or] how perfect your marriage is …and most people are not ticking all those boxes. This is taking that truth and making a very extreme case out of it. If communication is imperfect, let's show a man for whom it is traumatic. If men protect themselves behind certain reserves from intimacy, then let's take a man who not only does that, he is protected by high walls, titles, protocols. You could almost look at them as metaphors for barriers we all put up.

Director Tom Hooper says the heart of his film is how the King confronts those very ordinary problems.

THE KING'S SPEECH director Tom Hooper.
THE KING'S SPEECH director Tom Hooper.

"I think he humanized royalty for people. The public knew that he had a stammer so when they listened to him on the radio they were kind of hoping he would be okay and able to get through," says Hooper. "I think he put a human face on the monarchy because if someone is struggling with a disability like that it's hard not to feel connected.

The script by David Seidler is based on exhaustive research and first person accounts including Lionel Logue's unpublished diaries, discovered just weeks before filming began. Director Hooper says the challenge was to craft all that authenticity into an engaging story.

"It is probably the thing that I agonize about the most and gives me the most anxiety," admits Hooper, "because I care deeply about historical truth. I am the son of an historian. My mother, who is Australian, has written both on Australian and American history. I grew up in a house where history and truth mattered deeply around the dinner table. But I think in the end my responsibility is always to my audience and always to entertainment first, because you get no prizes for making a wholly accurate version of this film that was boring. In the end you've still got to invent. Even if you do everything truthfully, you still have to invent a ton load if you make a film about these people. That act of invention is something that has to sit alongside the concern for accuracy."

The King's Speech also features Guy Pearce as George's brother Edward; Michael Gambon plays their father, King George V; and the historical figures include Winston Churchill, portrayed by Timothy Spall.