For someone who was second in line to become monarch of Britain, the Duke of York Bertie to his family didn't have it easy. His elder brother David, soon to be Edward VIII, got all the attention, while Bertie, with his agonized shyness and crippling stammer, was treated by other royals as something between a commoner and an embarrassment, to be ignored or mocked. No one expected him to ascend to the throne as George VI and summon the courage to lead Britain to war against Hitler. Colin Firth has hardly suffered the raillery directed at Bertie, but in his nearly three decades as a stage, screen and TV actor, he has been a shadowy luminary: good ol' handsome, reliable Colin. His lovely work as George, the smitten, suicidal Englishman in last year's A Single Man, earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Now, in a showier film, he's the Oscar front runner. Well deserved, too, for he registers Bertie's misery and eventual resolve with delicate power a performance that is, in the best sense, noble.