With The Queen and Casino Royale leading the BAFTA nominees, the Academy's leaders say that UK films have held their own against international competitors for BAFTA voters.

'It's a very strong British year,' says BAFTA film committee chairman David Parfitt, who has produced films including BAFTA winner Shakespeare In Love. ' Britain is well represented, but there is also a very good international flavour.'

The awards have in the past been criticised for courting Hollywood stars on the red carpet, but BAFTA chief executive Amanda Berry says it's important that all films get equal footing. 'British films have done very well,' she says. 'They're competing with the best in the world. They're not there on nationality; they're there on merit. Casino Royale deserved to be there.'

Also, the national ties of a film are increasingly blurred. 'Children Of Men (3 nominations) was shot here with a British crew, but most people outside the UK wouldn't have thought of that as British film,' Parfitt says. 'It is an international film, by an international director and a mixed British cast. That is how it should be.'

Parfitt was encouraged by the Academy's rare recognision of the James Bond franchise. 'The Bond films are a huge franchise, but when they get the quality right the Academy will respect that. I am very pleased to see Casino Royale get noticed. That says what it did for the audience.'

The audience was also key in the Academy's decision to move forward the date for qualifying film releases to Feb 11 from the end of March -- meaning likely Oscar contenders such as The Good German and The Good Shepherd aren't eligible for this season's BAFTAs. 'We wanted to make the films featured in the ceremony relevant to the British public, who are the main audience for the event,' Berry says.

Parfitt added: 'It is hard for the public to get excited about a film that doesn't open until a month after the awards. We have had very little problem with the distributors about this, there are a couple of titles that couldn't quite make it, but most of the films that didn't make it were opening much later on in the year.'

The ceremony - on Feb 11 - will now clash with the Berlin Film Festival, but this will have a positive effect on attendance, Parfitt hopes. ' Berlin has been an advantage to us, as an awful lot of the distributors are bringing over key talent to Berlin, and it is only an hour away.'