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12 February 2011

Can anything derail The King’s Speech?

On Baftas weekend, a look at this year’s blockbuster British film.

By Helen Lewis

Last year’s Baftas set the tone for the awards season, with five winners of top-tier awards – The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow, Christoph Waltz, Mo’Nique and Up – going on to glory at the Oscars.

This year, of course, the chatter is all about The King’s Speech, which has 14 nominations. But, as the Independent‘s behind-the-scenes guide to the awards notes, it could suffer from having its votes split betwen the Best Film and Outstanding British Film awards.

The Independent article also offers an interesting analysis of why so few films get all the attention. (This year, it’s The King’s Speech, Black Swan, True Grit and The Social Network.) Although 207 films were entered in the various categories for the Baftas, the average number seen by the academy’s 13,000 voters was 37. Understandably, most people don’t have time to watch 400-plus hours of movies in the run-up to the awards, and so the films with the biggest marketing budgets and a critical head of steam benefit from their high visibility.

This year, that means that the top gongs at the Golden Globes were split between The King’s Speech and The Social Network; the latter did better at the London Critics’ Choice awards, beating the British film four to one. The Screen Actors Guild, meanwhile, gave Colin Firth and his film an award each, with Natalie Portman taking Best Actress and The Fighter the other two movie awards.

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The other obvious trend during awards season is the bias against “commercial” films. As the Telegraph notes here, the Harry Potter franchise has had 23 Bafta nominations over the years but only one win (for production design). Similarly, last year’s Oscar votes went to the determinedly small-scale Hurt Locker, rather than Avatar. (Say what you like about the blue aliens and the plot that was oddly reminiscent of Pocahontas, but James Cameron did invent a whole new type of film-making . . . )

Not that the Baftas are averse to films that happen to rake in the cash. The King’s Speech is about to pass $200m worldwide at the box office, from a reported budget of £15m. (By comparison, The Social Network, with the advantages of a well-known writer and director and a subject that everyone has an opinion on, has taken $220m.)

The Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver and Xan Brooks report that the success of The King’s Speech gives hope to the “lost middle” of the world film industry – movies that are neither giant money-hoovers nor tiny indie flicks. If so, a Bafta triumph would be a huge boost for a sector shaken by the scrapping of the UK Film Council.

The full list of Bafta nominees is here.