Two high-powered British prestige pictures - Iris and Charlotte Gray - have been set for release in the US and Canada in December, meaning that they qualify for and indeed will be pushed for Oscar consideration.

Neither had been certain to open this year. Warner Bros, which has US rights to Charlotte Gray, has an intensely busy release schedule in November and December including Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone, Ocean's 11 and The Majestic and had originally scheduled the World War II drama starring Cate Blanchett and Billy Crudup for the first quarter of next year. One report even suggested that Universal Pictures, which has multiple foreign rights on the film, was willing to take over domestic distribution in order to qualify the film for awards, but Warner has now set the date for Dec 28. The film is the first fruit of the studio's alliance with the UK's FilmFour. Gillian Armstrong directed.

Meanwhile Iris directed by Richard Eyre was not expected to be released by Miramax Films, which has domestic rights, until next year. The story of Iris Murdoch featuring double Oscar nominee Kate Winslet as the young Iris and winner Judi Dench as the older Iris, it has long been touted as a perfect awards candidate, although again Miramax has a bulging slate of films this Christmas, all primed for Oscar attention. They include Gangs Of New York, The Shipping News, In The Bedroom, Pinero and foreign language favourites Amelie and Behind The Sun. Late last week, however, the company set Iris for a one week qualifing run in Los Angeles and New York City starting Dec 14.

One film to suffer, however, is Heaven, Tom Tykwer's first English language film also starring Cate Blanchett which had been scheduled to open on Dec 7 through Miramax. That has now been moved to Mar 15 next year.

With Charlotte Gray in and Heaven out, Blanchett is still in four films at the year-end. In addition to Charlotte Gray on Dec 28, she can also be seen in Bandits which opens on Oct 12, The Fellowship Of The Ring on Dec 19 and The Shipping News, also on Dec 28.