Will ‘Gravity’ fall victim to curse of Best British Film at BAFTAs?

Gravity reaped a leading 11 BAFTA bids on Wednesday, including one for Best British Film. It qualified for this prize because it can boast of a British producer (David Heyman), a slew of British talent working below-the-line, and a shooting schedule that brought it to both Pinewood and Shepperton studios.

But fans of Alfonso Cuaron‘s blockbuster should be rooting for one of its rivals in that race — “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” “Philomena,” “Rush,” “Saving Mr. Banks,” and “The Selfish Giant” — to win that award. Since the British academy reintroduced Best British Film in 1992, separate from the top prize for Best Picture, only one movie — “The King’s Speech” (2010) — has won both. It went on to take Best Picture at the Oscars too. Besides “Gravity,” the only other domestic fare in the hunt for Best Picture is “Philomena,” which reaped four bids in all.  

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Over the last two decades, seven other British films have been named Best Picture: “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 of these were snubbed for Best British Film, the last four lost that race to “Nil By Mouth,” “The Last King of Scotland,” “This Is England” and “Man on Wire” respectively. This septet all reaped Best Picture bids at the Oscars, with only “Slumdog Millionaire” winning there as well. 

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Since 1992, there has been at least one British nominee for Best Picture every year. The British films that failed to win this open 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), “The Constant Gardener” (2005), “An Education” (2009) and “Les Miserables” (2012) losing both bids. However, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” did prevail in the home-grown category in 2011. 

From 1947 to 1967, the BAFTAs named two top pictures — Best Picture and Best British Film. Domestic 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 champ was the British made “Hamlet” which also took the top Oscar; however, it lost Best British Film to “The Fallen Idol.” It took till 1952 before a British entry –“The Sound Barrier” — won both prizes. Seven more films managed to pull off that double dipping: “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, BAFTA elminated the award for Best British Film. However, at least one British production contended for Best Picture every year but 1979. In that 24-year span, seven British films were named Best Picture: “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 two Best Picture Oscar champs — “Dances With Wolves” and “The Silence of the Lambs” — BAFTA reintroduced the Best British Film award the following year.

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