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Will best British film be final answer from BAFTA for 'Slumdog Millionaire'?

January 16, 2009 |  3:32 pm

"Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" both have a leading 11 nods at BAFTA. While one of the "Slumdog Millionaire" bids is for best British picture, if it wins that award, history tells us it will be out of the running for the top prize. Since BAFTA reintroduced the award for best British film in 1992, separate from the top prize for best picture, no movie has won both prizes.

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So "Slumdog Millionaire" fans should be rooting for one of the competition in the best British picture race — "Hunger," a biopic of IRA activist Bobby Sands that won director Steve McQueen the Golden Camera prize at Cannes; "In Bruges," Martin McDonagh's dark comedy about hit men on holiday; the documentary" Man on Wire" which follows in the footsteps of Phillippe Petit's 1974 walk between the two World Trade Center towers; and the ABBA songfest "Mamma Mia!" which recently edged out "Titanic" to become the top-grossing film of all time in the United Kingdom.

From 1947 to 1967, the BAFTA Awards named two top pictures — best film and best British film. Home-grown fare was eligible to compete in the wide-open category as well and at least one British film a year contended. In 1948, the best film winner was the British made "Hamlet" (which also took the top Oscar). However, it lost the best British film award to "The Fallen Idol." It took till 1952 before a British film — "The Sound Barrier" — won both prizes. Seven more films managed that feat — "Richard III" (1955); "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957; also best picture Oscar); "Room at the Top" (1958); "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962; also best picture Oscar); "Tom Jones" (1963; also best picture Oscar); "Dr. Strangelove" (1965 — same four films in both races); and "A Man for All Seasons" (1967; also 1966 best picture Oscar).

From 1968 to 1991, the BAFTA award for best British film was eliminated, but at least one British production contended for best picture every year but 1979. In those 24 years, seven British films won the best picture prize — "Sunday Bloody Sunday"(1971); "Chariots of Fire" (1981, also best picture Oscar); "Gandhi" (1982, also best picture Oscar); "Educating Rita" (1983); "The Killing Fields" (1984); "A Room With A View" (1986); and "The Commitments" (1991). Perhaps because that last film, a light-hearted romp about a budding band in Dublin, beat both "Dances With Wolves" and "The Silence of the Lambs," BAFTA reintroduced the British film award the following year.

Over the last 16 years, six British films have taken the top prize — "Howards End" (1992); "Four Weddings and a Funeral" (1994); "Sense and Sensibility" (1995 — tied with "The Usual Suspects"); "The Full Monty" (1997); "The Queen" (2006); and "Atonement" (2007). While the first three were not also nominated as best British film, the last three lost that race to "Nil By Mouth," "The Last King of Scotland," and "This Is England" respectively.

Since 1992, there has been at least one British film in the top race every year, but 2001 Brit hit "Gosford Park" failed to make the top 5, although it did land a Oscar best picture nod. The British films that failed to win the open best picture race used to win the closed one as a consolation prize — "The Crying Game" (1992); "Shadowlands" (1993); "The Madness of King George" (1995); "Secrets and Lies" (1996): "Elizabeth" (1998); "East Is East" (1999); and "Billy Elliot" (2000). But that has changed as of late, first with "Cold Mountain" (2003), and then "Vera Drake" (2004) and "The Constant Gardener" (2005), losing both races.

Related posts about BAFTA Awards:

Compare nominations to the finalists on BAFTA's long list.

BAFTA Awards predict more than half of Oscars' acting champs

BAFTA boosts Oscar hopes of 'Slumdog Millionaire' and 'Benjamin Button'

Flashback: Gold Derby coverage of BAFTA wins last year

Photo of "Slumdog Millionaire" courtesy of Fox Searchlight

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