LONDON (Reuters) - Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, stars of the romantic drama “Atonement” who were overlooked in the race for Oscar glory, are hoping the British Academy Film Awards will offer rich compensation on Sunday.
The wartime epic about lovers torn apart by a family betrayal is hot favorite to land the Best Film prize — but its two stars could be in for yet another disappointment after being passed over in the Hollywood nominations.
For Daniel Day-Lewis, playing an oil prospector in “There Will Be Blood,” and veteran Julie Christie, acclaimed for her portrayal of an Alzheimer’s sufferer in “Away From Her,” are strongly fancied to scoop top BAFTA acting honors.
Both are also leading contenders when the Oscars, whose build-up has been overshadowed by a bitter writers’ strike, are handed out in Hollywood on February 24.
Day-Lewis won a Best Actor Oscar in 1989 for his moving performance as a cerebral palsy victim in “My Left Foot.” He famously stayed in character on set even when the cameras were not rolling.
Christie, one of the famous faces of the “Swinging Sixties,” won an Oscar in 1965 for playing a model who slept her way to success in the London fashion scene. She also appeared in the classic films “Doctor Zhivago” and “Don’t Look Now.”
“Atonement,” a homegrown favorite with BAFTA’s 6,500 voting members, is up for Best Film against Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster,” the Coen Brothers’ acclaimed “No Country for Old Men” as well as “The Lives of Others” and “There Will be Blood.”
Organizers say the red carpet BAFTA show at London’s Royal Opera House has attracted an impressive array of American TV networks, eager to generate some much needed show business hype in the run-up to the Oscars.
When the BAFTA nominations were announced in January, it looked as if it might end up as the movie industry’s one and only big night of the year — but Oscar night prospects now look much more positive amid signs the writers’ strike could be resolved.
The British box office, often dominated by a heavy diet of Hollywood blockbusters, is in rude health.
Cinema-goers in Britain and Ireland spent 904 million pounds ($1.78 billion) in 2007, up eight percent on the previous year.
Seven of the top 20 films, led by “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” were British productions. That was up from just three home-grown hits in 2006.
(Additional reporting by Peter Griffiths)
editing by Paul Casciato