'The King's Speech' wins Toronto film fest award

"The King's Speech," a movie about a stammering British royal pressed to overcome a speech disorder to rally his empire at war, won the Toronto film festival's People's Choice Award on Sunday.

The film stars Colin Firth as King George VI, who was plagued by a dreaded nervous stammer, and chronicles his reluctant rise to power after his brother abdicated in 1936.

Written by David Seidler and directed by Tom Hooper, it also stars Geoffrey Rush as the unorthodox Australian therapist Lionel Logue who helped the monarch manage his stutter.

The period was "a fascinating moment when you chart the way mass media has transformed institutions like the monarchy... and the way leadership has to operate," Hooper said at the film's premiere.

"Twenty years earlier," he explained, "being king was still a visual thing. As long as you looked good on a horse or you could wave from a carriage or wave from a balcony and look fine, you could fulfill the ceremonial roles.

"Suddenly (this man) was facing being king at a moment when you had to speak publicly on the radio to the 58 countries of the British Empire, which represented one quarter of the world's population," he said.

Stuttering can have severe emotional consequences such as anxiety, self-imposed isolation, shame or stress. In the case of Bertie, as the king was affectionately known, he hoped to avoid altogether becoming king.

"So many people looked to the king for a performance that would emotionally connect and on top of that you had the Second World War coming," said Hooper.

On the one hand, people heard Adolf Hitler give "brilliant, fiery, fluent articulate" speeches while the king of England was "struggling to speak at all."

Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce also star in the film.

The runner-up was Justin Chadwick's "The First Grader," about an 84-year-old man who sets out to get an education after his government announces free schooling - something he missed in his youth while helping to liberate Kenya from British colonial rule.

The Toronto film festival is the biggest in North America and has traditionally been a key event for Oscar-conscious studios and distributors because it is attended by a sizable contingent of North American media.

Unlike the Cannes and Berlin festivals, Toronto does not award jury prizes.

Last year the audience prize for best motion picture went to Lee Daniels' "Precious," based on the 1996 novel by Sapphire about an obese, illiterate girl from Harlem dealing with abuse and incest.

The film went on to win Oscars for best supporting actress and screenwriting at the 82nd Academy Awards.

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