Copyright 2001 www.variety.com

[ December 29th 2001 ]

From Bridget Jones to Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings to Gosford Park, 2001 in movies was an exceptional year for Anglophiles. And it wasn't bad for British actors either. "It's funny, isn't it? We're having one of our times," says Julian Fellowes, the screenwriter of Gosford Park, director Robert Altman's 1930s mystery satire set at an English manor.

The ensemble cast includes nearly 20 British stars, including Helen Mirren, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson and Clive Owen. "I think most Americans really are Anglophiles. Aren't we all in a funny way? The language and history between us is such a connection," Altman said.

One of the year's early hits was the adaptation of Helen Fielding's best-selling novel Bridget Jones's Diary, about a thirtysomething Londoner. And the emphasis on things English carried right through the year, from small-scale tragic tales such as Iris, about author Iris Murdoch, to large-scale epic adaptations such as "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

Harry Potter filmmakers made a point of preserving the Britishness of the story, language and cast. The movie is so ripe with the aristocracy of Anglo-Irish acting - Richard Harris and Maggie Smith, for starters--that London actor Alex Jennings recently joked about establishing "a Harry Potter help line" to support British actors who didn't make the final cut.

The other big British fantasy series brought to the screen this year was J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, with a cast including Ian McKellen, Ian Holm and Christopher Lee. "I would imagine it's coincidence, because very often these things are," Mirren says of the English cavalcade.

Even Mike Myers' ogre in the fantasy hit Shrek spoke with a Scottish burr. Many non-British actors had to brush up on their British accents for 2001 films. The casting of Texas-born Renee Zellweger to play the very English Bridget Jones at first raised eyebrows, but her British co-stars praised her accent and performance.

Angelina Jolie became the upper-crust Lara Croft in the cyber-fantasy adaptation Tomb Raider. Australian Cate Blanchett turned Scottish as Charlotte Gray. Nicole Kidman was a British mom plagued by otherworldly visitors in The Others. And Johnny Depp and Heather Graham took on accents for the Jack the Ripper tale From Hell. Mirren, 56, who is married to American director Taylor Hackford, noted that many Hollywood filmmakers "people the smaller roles with British actors while having usually one to two big American stars."

Among new movies, for instance, The Shipping News has two American leads in Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore, with Britons Pete Postlethwaite, Judi Dench and Rhys Ifans offering support. Behind Blanchett and American Billy Crudup, Charlotte Gray's tony supporting cast includes Michael Gambon, Anton Lesser and Ron Cook, all established names in English theater.

Mirren was also in the ensemble piece Last Orders, adapted from Graham Swift's prize-winning novel set in and around the pubs and cemeteries of southeast London. She co-stars with Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, Tom Courtenay, Ray Winstone and David Hemmings - about as accomplished a lineup of British actors this side of Gosford Park.

Australian filmmaker Fred Schepisi, who directed Last Orders, said British actors "have this wonderful level of cross-training where they do theater and TV and movies...all at a level of intelligence."

Screenwriter Steve Kloves, the American adapter of author J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, put it another way: "You go, 'I've got Maggie Smith saying my lines.' She can say 'Pass the salt' and make it funny. It makes me look brilliant at times, and really it's just Maggie." .

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