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Britannia Awards Highlight the Breadth of U.K. Talent

Britannia Awards Honorees Bafta 2019
WALLER-BRIDGE: RICH FURY/INVISION/AP/SHUTTERSTOCK; PEELE: MICHAEL BUCKNER/DEADLINE/SHUTTERSTOCK; CHAN: CASEY CURRY/INVISION/AP/SHUTTERSTOCK; COOGAN: DAVID FISHER/SHUTTERSTOCK

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jodie Comer, Jesse Armstrong and other British stars had a good showing at the Emmys, highlighting the many talented actors, writers and producers in Hollywood who come from across the pond. And as the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Los Angeles’ Britannia Awards approach on Oct. 25, the occasion at the Beverly Hilton is ripe for further recognition of this generation of British talent to grace American screens, as well as Yanks who have resonated with U.K. audiences.

“When I look back at the history of British television and how it’s influenced America, it’s really quite astounding,” says Rich Licata of awards agency Licata & Co. “Shows like ‘All in the Family,’ ‘Three’s Company,’ ‘House of Cards,’ ‘Shameless,’ ‘Queer as Folk’ — even ‘Veep’ came from Britain.”

And while Brits have a long and storied history in Hollywood, this age of entertainment has expanded the depth and breadth of U.K. talent beyond the names that Americans have typically recognized: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Daniel Radcliffe, Hugh Grant. Waller-Bridge and Comer are relatively new faces to U.S. viewers, and such names as “A Very English Scandal” star Ben Whishaw and “The Crown’s” Claire Foy aren’t necessarily household monikers just yet. The Britannias, which have in past years honored Foy, Felicity Jones, Emilia Clarke and others, are putting more Brits on American radars.

This year, Waller-Bridge will be honored alongside legendary producer Norman Lear, who will be receiving the Britannia’s Excellence in Television award; Jackie Chan, who will receive the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment; and Steve Coogan, who is slated to receive the Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for Excellence in Comedy. This year’s Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film honoree is Jane Fonda, the John Schlesinger Britannia Award for Excellence in Directing will be bestowed upon Jordan Peele.

A different team of board members in L.A. and London come together each year to select the honorees, says outgoing BAFTA LA CEO Chantal Rickards. Recipients do not need to be of British descent, but their work needs to have had an impact on British viewers.

Notably, Waller-Bridge will receive the Britannia Award for British Artist of the Year, an honor that recognizes work from the past year. Waller-Bridge, who won the Emmy for lead comedy actress and for writing “Fleabag” — the show itself earned the best comedy series Emmy — is among the new guard.

As with many aspects of the entertainment landscape, the momentum of streaming services has done much to change the dynamic of how people find new shows, often broadening their curiosity and appetite for non-U.S. programming.

“There’s a real thread between American TV audiences and what the British are making, and I think that with the proliferation and popularity of original shows on streaming services and on cable, audiences have been introduced to a greater selection of all things British,” says Licata. “And they’re discovering their creative depth and breadth right now.”

A series such as “Fleabag” probably wouldn’t have been picked up in America in past years, says Rickards. The show consists of only six episodes a season for two short seasons, likely a limiting factor in the traditional linear days. But its home on Amazon has made it easily accessible for new viewers, many of whom only discovered the tragicomedy in its second season this year.

“If anything, the second season had even more buzz about it,” says Rickards. “There is nobody in the entertainment industry who now doesn’t know who Phoebe Waller-Bridge is, and I think she’s going to have an extraordinary career ahead of her. For a woman who’s in her mid-30s, she really is a phenomenon.”