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The real story behind 'The King's Speech'

Doggedness and serendipity set up a small film's big success.

By Staff writer / February 16, 2011

Colin Firth (King George VI) (c.) with GeoffreyRush (Lionel Logue) and Helena Bonham Carter (Queen Elizabeth).

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Los Angeles

This year's top Oscar-nominated film, "The King's Speech," bursts with narrative resonance – both in the story it tells and in the one behind the film's creation.

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The true-life tale of Prince Albert, who overcame a lifelong stammer on his way to becoming King George VI, seems built to appeal both to Americans' love of self-reinvention and also Britons' complex blend of nostalgia and ambivalence where their royals are concerned. The movie brims with the universal appeal of a fairy-tale ending – both in terms of its plot and also in that it is a $12 million film that has garnered 12 Oscar nods.

As a quintessential triumphant underdog yarn, the story is pure Americana, says Steve Thompson, founder of MindFrame Theaters, an independent art-house cinema in Dubuque, Iowa.

"[King George] is a man with problems, just like us, so we relate to him," he says.

But in depicting a royal who puts duty above his personal pain, this version of history is "also pure British Empire," says Wade Major, who teaches the film and social justice program at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles. It reinforces all the best values Britons attribute to themselves while it also humanizes the very notion of royalty – both past and present, he says.

The film is also well timed. It arrives as the British public finds itself face to face with the memory of another, more recent royal figure – Diana, Princess of Wales, whose own painful story hovers over the impending marriage of her first son, Prince William.

This is a wrenching moment for the British, says Mark Logue, grandson of Lionel Logue, the Australian actor and speech therapist – played in the film by Geoffrey Rush – whose unconventional techniques helped the second in line to the British throne (played by Colin Firth) gain his "voice."

The memory of Diana is everywhere, he says, speaking by phone from London. The film's story is a reminder of her appeal. "She was very human, with weaknesses and vulnerability, and the public had a great appetite for that," he says.

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