‘The King’s Speech’ makes BAFTAs history

Among the seven prizes claimed by “The King’s Speech” at the 64th annual edition of the BAFTAs were Best Picture and Best British Picture. No film had managed to pull off that double play since the latter award was re-introduced in 1992.

The most recent British film to take the top award was “Slumdog Millionaire” two years ago. However, it lost the best of British race to the documentary “Man of Wire” which followed in the footsteps of Phillippe Petit’s 1974 walk between the two World Trade Center towers.

For two decades from its inception in 1947, BAFTA bestowed both Best Picture and Best British Picture. 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 Picture winner was the British made “Hamlet” (which also took the top Oscar). However, it lost the Best British Picture 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); Oscar champ The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957); “Room at the Top” (1958); Oscar champ “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962); Oscar champ “Tom Jones” (1963); “Dr. Strangelove” (1965); and 1966 Oscar champ “A Man for All Seasons” (1967).

From 1968 to 1991, the BAFTA award for Best British Picture was eliminated, but at least one British production contended for Best Picture every year save 1979. In those 24 years, seven British films won the Best Picture prize: “Sunday Bloody Sunday”(1971); 1981 Oscar champ “Chariots of Fire” (1981); Oscar champ “Gandhi” (1982); “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 18 years, seven 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); “Atonement” (2007) and “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008). While the first three were not also nominated as Best British Picture, the last four lost that race to “Nil By Mouth,” “The Last King of Scotland,” “This Is England” and “Man on Wire” respectively.

Since 1992, there has been at least one British film in the top race every year but 2001 when Brit hit “Gosford Park” failed to make the cut, although it did land a Oscar Best Picture bid. 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) and, most recently, “An Education” (2009), losing both races.


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