Honor recognizes original British films

The Tale of Despereaux” and “Quantum of Solace” were British movies according to BAFTA, but “The Dark Knight” and “The Reader” were not.

If that makes sense to you, then you won’t have any trouble understanding the arcane method by which BAFTA chooses the winner of its Alexander Korda Award for Outstanding British Film.

“Outstanding,” not “best” British film, please note. The award has been renamed this year in an attempt to avoid the confusion caused when a U.K. movie wins the best film prize but not the Korda. “Outstanding” is intended to put the stress on originality, rather than merely on quality.

In fact, no film has won both prizes in the 15-year history of the Korda. That could change this year, because “Slumdog Millionaire” has the heavyweight status as an Oscar front-runner that’s needed for the main award, yet also the gritty indie energy required for the Korda.

But the competition looks tough. Korda nominees “Hunger” and “Man on Wire” have both met with universal acclaim within the Brit industry. “Mamma Mia!” is simply a phenomenon. And “In Bruges” has proved its staying power with awards juries on both sides of the Atlantic. The Korda is chosen by BAFTA’s film committee.

“In Bruges,” by the way, is the feature helming debut of playwright Martin McDonagh. He was born in London, but holds an Irish passport. That means he couldn’t be considered for the Carl Foreman award for first-time British filmmakers, though he could be considered for making the outstanding British film, albeit one shot in Belgium.

On the other hand, Stephen Daldry and David Hare, the Brits who directed and wrote “The Reader,” didn’t qualify for the Korda because it was shot in Germany and financed from America. Why “The Dark Knight,” shot in the U.K. by a British writer-director, wasn’t eligible is simply a mystery and possibly a mistake.

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