Open field for bevy of British runners

BAFTA Preview

There’s no “Slumdog Millionaire” or “The King’s Speech” to hog the limelight at this year’s British Academy Film Awards. But despite the absence of a clear favorite, BAFTA members aren’t short of options if they want to vote British.

Pics including “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “Shame,” “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” “The Iron Lady,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” “My Week With Marilyn,” “Arthur Christmas,” “Coriolanus,” “Tyrannosaur,” “The Deep Blue Sea,” “Senna,” “A Dangerous Method,” “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights” are all hoping to grab prizes Feb. 13 at the Royal Opera House.

Conversely, it’s hard to detect much buzz yet in BAFTA circles for many American films, some of which have seen only modest U.K. box office or lukewarm fest screenings. Compared with a Stateside supply that includes “The Descendants,” “The Ides of March,” “The Help,” “Moneyball,” “J. Edgar” and “Midnight in Paris,” one could argue that “The Artist,” France’s homage to Hollywood, has more interest.

Late starters such as “War Horse,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “Hugo” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” could have more U.K. resonance. But that still leaves the BAFTA field wide open for numerous British films and performances that are currently regarded as dark horses, rank outsiders or even non-runners in the Oscar race.

So which films and individuals are positioned to benefit this year from BAFTA’s British bounce?

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” has the potent combination of five-star reviews, boffo U.K. box office, a cast bursting with BAFTA favorites, the Working Title brand and the bullish backing of Studiocanal.

Added to that, from Gary Oldman for lead actor and Kathy Burke for supporting actress, the film has at least six plausible contenders for supporting actor, starting with back-to-back BAFTA winner Colin Firth and BIFA nominees Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch, who could either monopolize that category or cancel each other out.

Swedish helmer Tomas Alfredson is a recent foreign-lingo nominee, and BAFTA has a record of rewarding Euro talent.

Warner Bros. is gearing up a big Oscar push for the final “Potter” episode to crown the entire franchise, and will be looking for BAFTA’s endorsement, but BAFTA honored the whole franchise last year for its contribution to British cinema, something that might diminish its chances. However, Alan Rickman has been featured on BAFTA longlists for several years, and his death scene could finally tip him into the nominations.

Then there’s that well-known British filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Both “War Horse” and “The Adventures of Tintin” have a strong U.K. accent. “War Horse” is even qualified to compete for British film, while the U.K. cast and writing team of “Tintin” will make it a strong animated rival to “Arthur Christmas” from Bristol-based Aardman.

Despite its graphic sexual content, Steve McQueen’s “Shame” emerged from the fall festivals as an Oscar discussion point. McQueen, Carey Mulligan, co-writer Abi Morgan and producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman are all previous BAFTA winners, while Michael Fassbender has worked his way up through low-budget Brit fare to the cusp of Hollywood megastardom. Demand has been huge for BAFTA screenings, and a slew of nods would turbo-charge the pic’s Oscar prospects.

Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin” might prove a strong BAFTA candidate, particularly if distrib Artificial Eye, traditionally a reluctant campaigner, pulls out the stops. Its star Swinton is always a force at BAFTA, and Ramsay is a former debut winner whose comeback has been greeted with delight in the U.K.

The pic won top prize at the London Film Festival, beating rivals including “Shame,” “The Artist” and “The Descendants.”

Harvey Weinstein will be hoping that his two big candidates for the lead actress Oscar, Michelle Williams in “My Week With Marilyn” and Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady,” earn extra BAFTA points for appearing in British movies.

In the case of Streep, familiarity may be a double-edged sword. She will need all her brilliance to overcome the U.K. film community’s deep loathing for Margaret Thatcher, whose neglect devastated the industry in the 1980s.

Distribs will also be hoping for nationality to boost the chances of Vanessa Redgrave in “Coriolanus” and “The Descendants”; Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan in “Tyrannosaur”; Rachel Weisz in “The Deep Blue Sea”; Kenneth Branagh in “My Week With Marilyn”; Kristin Scott Thomas in “Sarah’s Key”; Andy Serkis in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”; Felicity Jones in “Like Crazy”; Helen McCrory and Ben Kingsley in “Hugo,” Andrea Riseborough in “W.E.” and Keira Knightley in “A Dangerous Method.”

But don’t expect a Kate Winslet boost for “Carnage,” which the double BAFTA winner is soft-pedaling after so many years on the campaign stump. “Save it for when it matters,” says one insider.

BAFTA PREVIEW
Upsets at BAFTA on the wane? | Open field for bevy of British runners | Hurdling British reserve | Past plaudits don’t guarantee future performance

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