- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

LONDON From Bridget Jones to Harry Potter, "The Lord of the Rings" to "Gosford Park," 2001 in movies was an exceptional year for Anglophiles. 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 52-year-old screenwriter of "Gosford Park," director Robert Altman's mystery satire set at a 1930s English manor.
The 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," says Mr. Altman, adding that the opportunity to work with so many stage-trained British actors had great appeal.
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. The emphasis on things English carried through the year, from such small-scale tales as "Iris," about author Iris Murdoch, to such epic adaptations as "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
Rarely have so many ensembles of British actors shared the screen. There scarcely seems to be a British actor out of work.
"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 Ian McKellen, Ian Holm and Christopher Lee.
"I would imagine it's coincidence, because very often these things are," Miss Mirren says of the English cavalcade.
Even Mike Myers' ogre in the fantasy hit "Shrek" speaks with a Scottish burr.
Many non-British actors had to brush up their British accents.
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," and Nicole Kidman was a British mom plagued by otherworldly visitors in "The Others."
Johnny Depp and Heather Graham took on accents for the Jack-the-Ripper tale "From Hell." Reese Witherspoon did the same for the upcoming "The Importance of Being Earnest." As a ruthless British spy, Pierce Brosnan played the antithesis of his James Bond persona in "The Tailor of Panama."
Imhotep the mummy visited London in one of the year's biggest hits, "The Mummy Returns," with a cast heavy on Brits.
Martin Lawrence journeyed back to merry olde England in the time-travel comedy "Black Knight," while Heath Ledger starred as William, a rock 'n' roll jousting champion, in the medieval film "A Knight's Tale."
The summer indie hit "Sexy Beast," about British mobsters plotting a heist, drew rave reviews for Britain's Ben Kingsley. Another English heist flick, "Snatch," featured an ensemble of British and American actors.
Miss Mirren, 56, who is married to U.S. 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 Miss Blanchett and American Billy Crudup, the tony supporting cast of "Charlotte Gray" includes Michael Gambon, Anton Lesser and Ron Cook, all established names in English theater.
Next up for Miss Mirren is the ensemble piece "Last Orders," adapted from Graham Swift's prize-winning novel set in and around the pubs and cemeteries of southeastern London. She co-stars with Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, Tom Courtenay, Ray Winstone and David Hemmings about as accomplished a lineup of British actors as exists, well, this side of "Gosford Park."
Australian filmmaker Fred Schepisi, who directed "Last Orders," says British actors "have this wonderful level of cross-training where they do theater and TV and movies all at a level of intelligence."

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