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Will 'The King's Speech' capture the attention of American moviegoers?

November 8, 2010 |  2:05 pm

A repressed 1930s king overcomes a stuttering problem with the help of an irreverent Australian teacher -- it's not the sort of tale that exactly screams mainstream theatrical hit.

But director Tom Hooper's movie "The King's Speech," in which Colin Firth plays a pre-World War II-era King George VI who faces down his childhood demons with the help of Geoffrey Rush's therapeutic strategies, seems to be resonating stateside. At an AFI Fest screening Friday, audiences laughed and applauded with as much gusto as you'll see at a public screening. The strong reception follows equally enthusiastic ones at festivals in Telluride and Toronto.

It's possible these people loving the film are the kind of rarefied moviegoers who are inclined to enjoy a story about British royals and hardly representative of the broader swath of the American public. After all, very few films set in the world of the monarchy cross over in the U.S. ("The Queen" and "The Madness of King George" are noteworthy breakthroughs).

"The King's Speech" has the added issue of being rooted in a particular period reality. The act of public speaking is given weight because Firth's monarch must deliver an important radio address, and it's easy to see an image-minded and Internet-addicted mainstream wondering what all the fuss is about.

But it's also possible that these festival reactions are a harbinger of the reception that awaits the movie when it's released in two weeks.

At the AFI screening, Hooper offered a sociopolitical explanation for the film's playability. "Deep in the American story is the idea of American standing up to an English king," he said. "So there's something interesting [to Americans] about a member of a colony [Rush, as an Aussie] standing up to a British monarch."

(For his part, when Rush was asked what he thought would drive people see the film, the actor didn't hesitate to say he held his own hypothesis. "I think," he said "that the Americans might connect just on the level of therapy.")

For all of its cultural assumptions, "The King's Speech" is less concerned about who did or didn't do what in whose court, but about what it takes to overcome a handicap. It's an underdog sports story, in a sense, draped in different garb. And what could be more American than that?

--Steven Zeitchik


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


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Will The King's Speech sell in America? Who knows, but should it be a clear cut Oscar contender? Absolutely!


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