A glance at this year’s nominations for the British Academy Film Awards begs the question — just how British are the BAFTAs?
The film shortlist contains four movies whose setting and subject matter couldn’t be more American — “Brokeback Mountain,” “Capote,” “Crash” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Then there’s “The Constant Gardener,” a British movie set in Kenya and directed by a Brazilian.
There’s an assumption Stateside that the British Academy has a natural tendency to favor local talent. Yet among the academy’s own membership in Blighty, there’s a sense that the BAFTAs have sold their soul to Hollywood in their eagerness to be included in the Oscar race.
So what evidence is there for either view?
BAFTA certainly has a weakness for British grand dames of a certain age. Judi Dench could get nominated for reading the phone book, so her nod for “Mrs. Henderson Presents” was probably inevitable. Yet that’s hardly a bias unique to the Brits. The Americans have proved themselves equally in awe of Dench on numerous occasions.
Brenda Blethyn is another whose status as a national treasure secured her a nomination for “Pride & Prejudice” ahead of several younger actresses in the same movie with an equal claim, notably Oscar nominee Keira Knightley and Rosamund Pike.
The face-off between Rachel Weisz and Oscar front-runner Reese Witherspoon in the best actress category offers an acid test of BAFTA’s national allegiance. While Focus Features decided Weisz had a better chance in the supporting actress races Stateside, she’s a real threat to Witherspoon in the BAFTA contest.
Nonetheless, BAFTA takes pride in not being parochial. For instance, Ziyi Zhang got a slot over Knightley in the actress race. And a pic like “The Constant Gardener” plays perfectly to this sensibility, both British and international at once.
On the other hand, Woody Allen got no special favors for making “Match Point” in the U.K.; and Brit Sam Mendes, who is becoming something of a BAFTA black sheep, got no noms for “Jarhead.”
It’s curious that Alfonso Cuaron’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” picked up a nomination last year for best British movie, when Mike Newell’s “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” widely agreed to be the best Potter movie so far, failed to do so this year.
But then, BAFTA is unsentimental about British directors. When Mike Leigh won best director last year for “Vera Drake,” it broke a 10-year run of no local helmers winning the prize, even though movies directed by Brits won best film five times in that period.
BAFTA reserves two prizes purely for British work — the Alexander Korda Award for outstanding British film and the Carl Foreman Award for special achievement by a first-time British director, writer or producer. That arguably acquits the voters from any sense of duty to give special preference to British contenders in the main categories.
But even this year’s Korda and Foreman nominations show how hard it is to define the BAFTAs by nationality. Two of the five Korda candidates are directed by foreign-born helmers — “The Constant Gardener” and “Festival” by Edinburgh, Scotland-based Yank Annie Griffin. Griffin, who holds a British passport, also is up for the Foreman, where her rivals include the producers of two African movies, “Shooting Dogs” and “Tsotsi.”
A certain British bias is more detectable in the technical categories, where Hollywood blockbusters that shot in Blighty and therefore employed large local crews tend to find favor. So “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Batman Begins” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” all figure strongly in the nominations.
But in the end, the issue of the Britishness of the BAFTAs cannot be separated from the larger question of how British is the British film industry. The answer: not as much as you might think.
The BAFTA membership is a mongrel bunch — a quarter live in the U.S., and those based in Blighty include the Americans, French, Australians and other foreigners who make the British film industry so international in its outlook.
In the end, the charm of the BAFTAs is that they reflect this polyglot community in all its idiosyncratic and contradictory glory.
“The Constant Gardener”
“Good Night, and Good Luck”
ALEXANDER KORDA AWARD (British film of the year)
“A Cock & Bull Story”
“The Constant Gardener”
“Pride & Prejudice”
“Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”
CARL FOREMAN AWARD (achievement by a British director, writer or producer in a first feature)
David Belton, (producer) “Shooting Dogs”
Peter Fudakowski, (producer) “Tsotsi”
Annie Griffin, (director/writer) “Festival”
Richard Hawkins, (director) “Everything”
Joe Wright, (director) “Pride & Prejudice”
DAVID LEAN AWARD (achievement in direction)
Ang Lee, “Brokeback Mountain”
Bennett Miller, “Capote”
Fernando Meirelles, “The Constant Gardener”
Paul Haggis, “Crash”
George Clooney, “Good Night, and Good Luck”
Cliff Hollingsworth/Akiva Goldsman, “Cinderella Man”
Paul Haggis/Bobby Moresco, “Crash”
George Clooney/Grant Heslov, “Good Night, and Good Luck”
Keir Pearson/Terry George, “Hotel Rwanda”
Martin Sherman, “Mrs. Henderson Presents”
Larry McMurtry/Diana Ossana, “Brokeback Mountain”
Dan Futterman, “Capote”
Jeffrey Caine, “The Constant Gardener”
Josh Olson, “A History of Violence”
Deborah Moggach, “Pride & Prejudice”
FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
“The Beat That My Heart Skipped” (France)
“Le Grand Voyage” (France-Morocco)
“Kung Fu Hustle” (China)
“Merry Christmas” (France)
“Tsotsi” (South Africa)
David Strathairn, “Good Night, and Good Luck”
Heath Ledger, “Brokeback Mountain”
Joaquin Phoenix, “Walk the Line”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Capote”
Ralph Fiennes, “The Constant Gardener”
Charlize Theron, “North Country”
Judi Dench, “Mrs. Henderson Presents”
Rachel Weisz, “The Constant Gardener”
Reese Witherspoon, “Walk the Line”
Ziyi Zhang, “Memoirs of a Geisha”
Don Cheadle, “Crash”
George Clooney, “Good Night, and Good Luck”
George Clooney, “Syriana”
Jake Gyllenhaal, “Brokeback Mountain”
Matt Dillon, “Crash”
Brenda Blethyn, “Pride & Prejudice”
Catherine Keener, “Capote”
Frances McDormand, “North Country”
Michelle Williams, “Brokeback Mountain”
Thandie Newton, “Crash”
ANTHONY ASQUITH AWARD (achievement in film music)
Gustavo Santaolalla, “Brokeback Mountain”
Alberto Iglesias, “The Constant Gardener”
John Williams, “Memoirs of a Geisha”
George Fenton, “Mrs. Henderson Presents”
T-Bone Burnett, “Walk the Line”
Rodrigo Prieto, “Brokeback Mountain”
Cesar Charlone, “The Constant Gardener”
J. Michael Muro, “Crash”
Laurent Chalet/Jerome Maison, “March of the Penguins”
Dion Beebe, “Memoirs of a Geisha”
Geraldine Peroni/Dylan Tichenor, “Brokeback Mountain”
Claire Simpson, “The Constant Gardener”
Hughes Winborne, “Crash”
Stephen Mirrione, “Good Night, and Good Luck”
Sabine Emiliani, “March of the Penguins”
Nathan Crowley, “Batman Begins”
Alex McDowell, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
Stuart Craig, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”
Grant Major, “King Kong”
John Myhre, “Memoirs of a Geisha”
Gabriella Pescucci, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
Isis Mussenden, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”
Colleen Atwood, “Memoirs of a Geisha”
Sandy Powell, “Mrs. Henderson Presents”
Jacqueline Durran, “Pride & Prejudice”
David G Evans/Stefan Henrix/Peter Lindsay, “Batman Begins”
Joakim Sundstrom/Stuart Wilson, “The Constant Gardener”
Richard Van Dyke/Sandy Gendler, “Crash”
Hammond Peek/Christopher Boyes/Mike Hopkins/Ethan Van Der Ryn, “King Kong”
Paul Massey/D. M. Hemphill/Peter Kurland/Donald Sylvester, “Walk the Line”
SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS
Janek Sirrs/Dan Glass/Chris Corbould, “Batman Begins”
Nick Davis/John Thum/Chaz Jarrett/Joss Williams, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
Dean Wright/Bill Westenhofer/Jim Berney/Scott Farrar, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”
Jim Mitchell/John Richardson, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”
Joe Letteri/Christian Rivers/Brian Van’t Hul/Richard Taylor, “King Kong”
MAKEUP & HAIR
Peter Owen/Ivana Primorac, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
Howard Berger/Gregory Nicotero/Nikki Gooley, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”
Nick Dudman/Amanda Knight/Eithne Fennell, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”
Noriko Watanabe/Kate Biscoe/Lyndell Quiyou/Kelvin R Trahan, “Memoirs of a Geisha”
Fae Hammond, “Pride & Prejudice”
SHORT ANIMATION FILM
“The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello”
“Heavy Metal Drummer”
“Heydar, an Afghan in Tehran”