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Toronto 2010: Can 'The King's Speech' become the awards movie 'A Single Man' was supposed to be?

September 10, 2010 |  4:12 pm

Last year, Harvey Weinstein came to the Toronto International Film Festival with an eye toward landing a big awards contender. He walked away with the Tom Ford period drama "A Single Man," but it scored only one Oscar nomination (for Colin Firth, who didn't win the lead actor statuette).

In 2010, Weinstein comes into Toronto with an awards contender. And, coincidentally, it stars Firth in a period drama.

This year, though, both their chances look a lot better.

"The King's Speech" came out of Telluride with strong buzz and took another step to becoming an awards-season favorite when it screened for more than 500 media representatives and industry insiders Friday morning in Toronto. In the Tom Hooper-directed film, set in England in the 1930s, Firth plays the eventual King George VI, known as Bertie, who has a crippling stuttering problem, and Geoffrey Rush plays his unconventional teacher. 

KingSpeech We'll have more from the film's principals out of a news conference tomorrow. But there's already plenty for awards pundits to chew on. As my colleague John Horn wrote out of Telluride, the movie is an affecting portrait that goes beyond the narrow concerns of pre-World War II British society to questions of loyalty and friendship, all of them addressed with wit and soul.

The British indie also plays against the kind of historical backdrop that, for awards voters, tends to elevate a movie beyond a performance play to an all-category contender. In this case, tensions with Nazi Germany are roiling, and the reason Bertie needs to polish his speaking abilities is because, as the king-in-waiting, he will be called on to address a nervous nation.

Which brings us back to "A Single Man." Many were surprised when the film, a tragic romance that Ford adapted from a Christopher Isherwood novel, didn't catch on more with awards voters. (It failed, for instance, to land a supporting actress nomination for Julianne Moore, who many thought a lock.)

Some pointed to the Weinstein campaign strategy, while others blamed the austere and remote feel of the film itself, in explaining the Oscar under-performance. But the most likely explanation is that the film told a far more specific story with far less historical significance. "The King's Speech," despite it being the quintessence of a character study, feels like a part of the fabric of the 20th century.

There are still questions, of course. Firth is nearly a shoo-in for a lead actor nomination and Rush's character is a strong candidate for supporting actor. (Even though his part could lean leading at the Golden Globes and the Oscars, knowing Harvey Weinstein's knack for pursuing the category with the most opportunity, expect it to go supporting.)

But the low-key Hooper -- whose previous film, "The Damn United," was not on most pundits' radars -- will have to compete against heavyweights such as Clint Eastwood, Danny Boyle and David Fincher, all of whom have new films this season. And there remain plenty of questions about Weinstein's willingness and ability to spend this awards season. (The departure of two key publicity executives at the start of Toronto is not the best sign.)

Still, when you have a film that's ostensibly about public speaking but satisfies on a much larger level, it might be time to feel optimistic that you'll soon be giving your own speeches.

-- Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo of Colin Firth as King George VI in Tom Hooper's movie "The King's Speech": Laurie Sparham / The Weinstein Co.  

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