LOS ANGELES Oscar looks set to bow before "The King's Speech" this coming Sunday, proving there's nothing quite like a British accent, some historic buildings, and, best of all, a few royals to get Hollywood all a twitter.
Few Americans had ever heard of King George VI -- the royal who led Britain into World War II and the father of current monarch Queen Elizabeth -- before Colin Firth brought him to life in "King's Speech" as a shy man with a crippling stutter.
Now, many Americans know his story, and if "King's Speech" wins Oscars on February 27, many more will want to learn about him. And it's very likely the movie will take home at least a few Academy Awards because it has a leading 12 nominations for the honors given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In fact, it is the front-runner for best film.
Throughout U.S. history, Americans have been fascinated by royal pomp -- even on a movie screen. In 1860, a New York ballroom floor collapsed under the weight of thousands gathered to see a teenage Prince Albert Edward. Currently, Americans have royal wedding fever over the April marriage of Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton.
"Even though we won the American Revolution, we still bow to British royalty. We are suckers for a British accent -- it sounds so much smarter -- and there is a clear bias throughout Oscar history for British films," said Tom O'Neil of awards websites goldderby.com and theenvelope.com.
U.S. critics, moviegoers and Hollywood's professional guilds have responded warmly to the movie's human story of friendship, courage and triumph over adversity, performed by a strong ensemble cast that includes Oscar nominees Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush, alongside Firth.
A "recommendation" for the movie by Queen Elizabeth, whose aides let it be known that she found the film "moving and enjoyable" after a private screening in January, proved the ultimate endorsement.
"HER MAJESTY'S APPRECIATION"
Her comments were seized upon by veteran Oscar campaigner and "King's Speech" distributor Harvey Weinstein, who said those associated with the film were "deeply honored and humbled by Her Majesty's appreciation."
British period movies have often done well at the Academy Awards. Helen Mirren won her Oscar for portraying Queen Elizabeth in "The Queen" in 2006; the 2001 upstairs-downstairs film "Gosford Park" won a screenwriting Oscar for Julian Fellowes; and 1998 movie "Shakespeare in Love" won seven Oscars, including a trophy for Judi Dench's brief turn as 16th century monarch Queen Elizabeth I.
British stage actors are held in high esteem by their U.S. peers, especially when it comes to Shakespeare.
"Hundreds of years after the American Revolution, there is still the sense that the stuff we see that is British, tends to be smarter," said Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.
Indeed, one of the more astounding series of events to watch this awards season in Hollywood has been the manner in which "The King's Speech" quashed early Oscar front-runner, Facebook movie "The Social Network".
"Social Network" swept through early awards from American critics' groups, but "The King's Speech" turned the race on its ear when it began claiming top honors from film and TV professional guilds such as the Producers Guild of America, Directors Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild.
"'The Social Network' is the quintessential American movie. It is the ultimate tale of America today, (but) it faced off against a classic British historical drama about royals," said O'Neil. "If a British commoner had this stammer, we would cruelly not care, royal worshipers that we are."
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)