Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 14 News List

British lead a foreign invasion of the OSCARS

With strong contenders from all over the world, this year's Oscars may break the mold and become what the event has always aspired to be ─ truly international

AP , NEW YORK

Helen Mirren, nominated for her role as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, in character.

PHOTOS: EPA AND APPLAUSE

The British are coming to this year's Oscars.

With The Queen Helen Mirren leading the charge, British actors and directors are turning this year's Oscar competition into a truly global event.

There were so many British Oscar nominees announced Tuesday in Beverly Hills, California, that Prime Minister Tony Blair could not help but take notice thousands of kilometers away in London.

"The fact that British actors, actresses, directors and films figure so strongly in the Oscar nominations is fantastic news,'' Blair said Tuesday. "It is a real tribute to the increasing strength of the British film industry and the incredible talents of all who work in it.''

But Blair's office said he had not seen The Queen, the monarchy-in-crisis film which features actor Michael Sheen as Blair.

The British film picked up six Oscar nominations, including best picture, director (Stephen Frears), actress (Mirren), original screenplay (Peter Morgan) and score (Alexandre Desplat).

"I'm amazed and thrilled and flattered," Frears said. "This is a tremendous honor for the film but panic sets in now because you think 'Oh, my God. This is where the chaos is about to start.'"

Also among the best-director nominees was another British filmmaker, Paul Greengrass, for the Sept. 11 docudrama United 93, the agonizingly realistic chronicle of passengers killed when their plane crashed after they fought back against terrorist hijackers.

"When so many wonderful British movies have been made, it's great that a film like United 93 gets nominated because I believe that cinema, to continue, has to address contemporary events and that it has a unique role to play," said Greengrass.

"It's been a fantastic year for British film. British film has taken a bit of a battering, has a few brickbats thrown at it; but it's a rich, rich period for British film at the moment. We're all reaping the rewards.''

British stars dominated the best-actress field, taking three of the five nominations. But British bookmaker Ladbrokes wasted no time in declaring Mirren the odds-on favorite, quoting her at 1-6 odds.

"Dame Helen looks set to add the big one to her Golden Globe accolade," said Ladbrokes spokesman Nick Weinberg. "It will go down as the greatest upset in the Academy's history if she wasn't given the award.''

In The Queen, Mirren portrays Elizabeth II during the emotional tug of war between the royal family and Blair following Princess Diana's death.

"It is one of the hardest roles to play, not just a living person but one who is part of our everyday lives in Britain," the 61-year-old Mirren said. "While her presence is with us from her image on the letters that come through our door and on the money we spend, we know so little of the woman behind the image. I hope that my performance has conveyed a sense of Elizabeth the woman as well as the queen."

Joining Mirren as best-actress nominees were Spain's Penelope Cruz as a woman dealing with bizarre domestic crises in Volver and Britons Judi Dench as a scheming teacher who discovers her colleague is having an affair with a 15-year-old pupil in Notes on a Scandal and Kate Winslet as a bored housewife in an affair with a neighbor in Little Children. Two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep, the most-nominated actor ever with 14, was the only American best actress nominee for The Devil Wears Prada.

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