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BAFTA plays favorites with talent

Tradition of honoring U.K. actors may continue

The statistics show that BAFTA favors British actors, with Brits winning 16 acting prizes in the past decade vs. seven Oscars.

It doesn’t always work out that way: In 2001, a little-known American, Jennifer Connelly, beat four of Blighty’s greatest thesps — Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith and Kate Winslet — to the supporting actress award for “A Beautiful Mind.” But there is certainly no shortage of British options in contention for 2008 honors.

Winslet looks like a strong contender this year to add to her only previous BAFTA, won 12 years ago for “Sense and Sensibility.” She has two chances, with “Revolutionary Road” and “The Reader,” although that might not be a good omen. She got a double nod back in 2004 — for “Finding Neverland” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” — but still lost to Imelda Staunton in “Vera Drake.”

This year, Winslet faces another powerful field of British rivals. Given BAFTA’s predilection for Mike Leigh’s women, Sally Hawkins looks to be a certainty for “Happy-Go-Lucky.” Kristin Scott Thomas will garner support for “I’ve Loved You So Long” with extra brownie points for speaking French, while her grand turn in “Easy Virtue” could figure in the supporting actress race. Rachel Weisz won the Oscar but not the BAFTA for “The Constant Gardener,” so her comic take in “The Brothers Bloom” could allow British voters to make good.

It’s impossible to count out Keira Knightley for “The Duchess” (though the same probably isn’t true for “The Edge of Love”). “The Duchess” might have been spurned by the critics, but it has proved a hit at the U.K. box office, largely on the strength of Knightley’s star power. BAFTA’s broad-based membership tends to reflect mainstream tastes.

Perennial BAFTA favorite Ralph Fiennes, who stars alongside Knightley in “The Duchess” and Winslet in “The Reader,” has a strong shot at a double supporting actor nod. Charlotte Rampling and Hayley Atwell from “The Duchess” have a chance in the supporting actress race, where Knightley’s co-star in “Edge of Love,” Sienna Miller, also merits consideration.

Michael Sheen for “Frost/Nixon” and Ben Kingsley for “Elegy” look like good prospects for leading actor. Dev Patel in “Slumdog Millionaire” is the kind of young darkhorse BAFTA has a record of backing, particularly if voters realize he’s British.

There’s a lot of goodwill, too, for Daniel Craig, nominated a couple of years back for his first James Bond outing in “Casino Royale.” He might figure again for “Quantum of Solace,” but is more likely to get kudos for “Defiance,” with a very outside chance for his self-parodic cameo in “Flashbacks of a Fool.”

The German-born, Irish-raised actor Michael Fassbender is something of an adopted Brit, and will benefit from the high profile in BAFTA circles of London native Steve McQueen’s debut movie “Hunger.”

Supporting actress is typically BAFTA’s most Brit-centric category, so expect to see Julie Walters rewarded for her game performance in “Mamma Mia!” Thandie Newton has won this section before, so she may figure for “W.,” while Rebecca Hall’s rising reputation may translate into recognition for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” or “Frost/Nixon.” And, of course, there’s last year’s winner Tilda Swinton in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

Toby Jones in “W.” and “Frost/Nixon,” and Peter O’Toole in “Dean Spanley” will hope for notice in supporting actor. Matthew Rhys as Dylan Thomas in “Edge of Love” could also contend, along with David Thewlis for “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” “RocknRolla” isn’t the kind of film that attracts awards, but Tom Wilkinson is the kind of actor who does.

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