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Telluride 2010: 'The King's Speech's' eloquent oratory

September 6, 2010 | 10:59 am

As a young English child with a terrible stammer, David Seidler would listen to radio broadcasts of King George VI, who also had an almost incapacitating speech impediment. The king’s World War II addresses reminded Seidler that if the monarch could overcome stuttering, so could he: The king was his elocutionary inspiration.

Seidler grew up to become a screenwriter, writing “Tucker: The Man and his Dream” and numerous television programs, but he never forgot what he heard over the wireless so many decades earlier. He eventually adapted the story of the king and his relationship with his unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue, into a play, and the play has now become the movie “The King’s Speech,” which had its world premiere at Labor Day weekend's Telluride Film Festival.

Even though the movie directed by Tom Hooper ("The Damned United") is about the royal family and unfolds around Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, “The King’s Speech” follows surprisingly common themes of friendship, perseverance and trust.

Logue (Geoffrey Rush) was indeed a talented language pathologist (the film was shaped by a trove of his unpublished papers, records and diary entries), but his true gift was companionship. Like any good shrink or comrade, the therapist was able to reveal and manage some of the things -- an oppressive childhood, chiefly -- that twisted the king’s tongue in knots. The film ends with the king (Colin Firth) addressing the nation just as the war with Germany is set to begin. 

“What I felt the film was really about was that he was saved by friendship,” Hooper says. “Yes, it’s about a man with a stammer. But we all face blocks to becoming our better selves.”

The film is stuffed with period detail (“I’m obsessive about historical accuracy,” says Hooper, who also directed the miniseries “John Adams”).

One of the film’s most memorable lines comes not from biography, but from something Hooper’s father told the director. Educated in a heartless boarding school, the filmmaker’s dad suffered some of the same confidence-killing treatment as did King George VI.

So when Hooper told his father he was stuck on one scene, his father told him some the best advice he ever heard: “You don’t need to be afraid of the things you were afraid of when you were 5.”

It’s Logue’s line to the king now, and it’s part of what makes “The King’s Speech” so affecting.

-- John Horn in Telluride, Colo.

Photo: Colin Firth in "The King's Speech." Credit: The Weinstein Co.