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TORONTO (Reuters) - The story of the man who would rather not be king is stealing Oscar buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, with Colin Firth as the monarch who overcame a debilitating stammer to do the job.
"The King's Speech" stars Firth as Britain's George VI. It centers on the monarch's relationship with an Australian speech therapist, played by Geoffrey Rush, as his brother abdicates and kingship is quite literally thrust upon him.
"This movie has best picture and best actor nominations written all over it," Hollywood Reporter's Risky Business blog wrote. "And maybe best screenplay, best director and best supporting actor too."
George VI, known to the family as Bertie, had never expected to inherit the throne. But his older brother, Edward VIII, stepped down in 1936 so he could marry a twice-divorced commoner, American Wallis Simpson, and Bertie became the king who would lead Britain into war against Nazi Germany.
"Most stories about kingship are about the pursuit of power, the seductions of power and the corruptions of power," director Tom Hooper told reporters this weekend.
"This is a story about a man who absolutely at the core of body did not want to be king, did not want the job and tried to avoid it. When you see this story, there's no way you can look at it and say how lucky the British monarchy is. It comes with a curse, and he rises to meet it."
Some of the most painful scenes in the movie show Firth tongue-tied in front of a microphone, unable to shape a single word. His audience watches, concerned, embarrassed, sometimes even distressed.
Firth, nominated for an Oscar for last year's "A Single Man," said one of the challenges in the movie was finding a tempo for a story that centers on an individual who really can't string two words together.
"This is a guy who takes 20 minutes to get a word out. It's hard to pace that one," he said. "How much can we afford to dwell on painful silences? Having established them, can we afford to perhaps pick up the pace a bit?"
But the movie is also about trust and class, as Bertie is forced to shed his royal reserve to work with a therapist whose methods are unconventional at least.
Rush, an Oscar winner for "Shine" in 1997 and a two-time nominee, plays Lionel Logue, an Australian transplanted to a dark and grimy London. He insists on calling the king by his family nickname, Bertie, and wants Bertie to call him Lionel in return.
"There's this class and cultural divide between an imperial figure and a very anonymous colonial guy," Rush said.
"The King's Speech" opens on Nov 24.
Editing by Doina Chiacu