Oscar-winning Chariots Of Fire screenwriter Colin Welland famously declared: "The British are coming!" At the time, 25 years ago, it sounded more like hollow bravado than an accurate forecast. If the nominations for this year's Orange British Academy Film Awards (Baftas) are any indication, then the cry carries renewed credibility. Bafta voters have backed British talent to an unprecedented degree this year, ignoring heavyweight US contenders such as Bobby, Flags Of Our Fathers and Blood Diamond in favour of homegrown excellence.
Helen Mirren had long been considered a best actress favourite for The Queen but the film's tally of 10 nominations is a huge endorsement for a great British success story. The real surprise was the nine nominations for Casino Royale. The Bond films are one of cinema's most successful franchises, but their commercial dominance seemed to have put them beyond the scope of Bafta nominations in the past. All that has changed with Daniel Craig's best actor nomination, a triumph for the performer who encountered such unwarranted media hostility when his casting was announced. Craig becomes the first actor in the Bond series to have won the recognition of his peers for playing 007.
The support for homegrown talent is widespread and a huge boost for British film-makers. Bafta voters have always taken pride in offering a level playing field to all films and eschewing special treatment for indigenous productions. That means nominations are achieved on merit and against stiff international competition. It may also mean British films have learnt that to stand a chance of nomination, it is necessary to campaign.
The Queen, The Last King Of Scotland (five nominations), United 93 (six nominations), Notes On A Scandal (three nominations), Venus (two nominations) and The History Boys (two nominations) have all been high-profile candidates supported by nationwide screenings, question-and-answer sessions, screeners and 'for your consideration' ads. The British titles that might have expected to do better, such as Red Road, were the ones that appeared to have nobody fighting their corner. A prize-winner at Cannes, Red Road also saw Kate Dickie pip Helen Mirren for best actress at the British Independent Film Awards yet writer-director Andrea Arnold's nomination for the Carl Foreman award is the film's only recognition.
The 2006 nominees also underline that very little can be taken for granted when it comes to the Baftas. Nobody will have been too surprised by nominations for Bafta favourites such as Judi Dench (Notes On A Scandal) or Kate Winslet (Little Children) but there have been an equal number of Bafta regulars overlooked this year, notably Pedro Almodovar (Volver), Renee Zellweger (Miss Potter) and screenwriter Alan Bennett (The History Boys).
One other notable aspect of the 2006 nominations is voters' willingness to embrace commercial hits. The Queen, Casino Royale, The Departed (six nominations), Little Miss Sunshine (six nominations), Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (five nominations) and The Devil Wears Prada (five nominations) are contenders that any multiplex viewer will recognise.
Last year's popular choice of James McAvoy as the first recipient of the Orange Rising Star Award has also proved prescient. McAvoy has more than justified the honour over the past year, and earns a best supporting actor nomination for The Last King Of Scotland.
In tune with public enthusiasm, backing British talent and hosting the February 11 awards ceremony in a glamorous new venue, the Baftas seem in rude health. Shame they couldn't have found some way to honour Borat.