'Hollywood bible' says British stars will sweep the board at Cannes film festival

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The Independent Culture

Britain's host of Oscar nominations may have failed to translate into much in the way of honours this year but next month's Cannes film festival promises to be a different story.

Twelve months ago, not one British picture managed to make the slightest impression on the prestigious competition. But this year, according to Variety magazine, the Hollywood bible, the UK film industry looks set for its strongest presence in the south of France for years.

Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People, Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen, and Mike Leigh's All or Nothing are all being tipped for selection by Variety. The Canadian director David Cronenberg is also in the running for Spider, a film that has been hijacked by the British by virtue of its domestic cast and setting. Morvern Callar by Lynne Ramsay, director of the acclaimed Ratcatcher, has been touted as a contender for the part of the festival designed for emerging talents.

No one was willing to say much publicly about the potential nominations for fear of upsetting the notoriously prickly Cannes selection panels, which announce their choices later in the month.

But industry sources said Thierry Fremaux, the festival's new director, has been in London in recent weeks, attending screenings and talking to film figures. He has also had two scouts on the look-out. A Film Council spokeswoman said: "The signs are looking very positive. The interest that has been shown in the crop of movies that has been completed and ready for the festival has been extremely good. We wouldn't like to pre-empt anything, but everybody in the industry feels that way."

Success at Cannes is always a huge fillip, with the festival generating a welcome buzz for films such as Stephen Daldry's Billy Elliot which premièred there two years ago.

Of all the films being touted, only Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People, starring Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson, the boss of Manchester record label Factory, is on release. Backed by the Film Council and FilmFour, it was thought likely to have been selected last year but was not ready in time.

BBC Films, which did manage one Oscar success with Iris, is involved in two of the Cannes hopefuls – Sweet Sixteen and Morvern Callar. But other British films such as The Lord of the Rings and Gosford Park, which expected recognition at the Oscars, failed to deliver as many Academy Awards as hoped.

Sweet Sixteen, about a teenager and his family of wasters, was written by Paul Laverty, who scripted Ken Loach's My Name is Joe, for which Peter Mullan won the best actor at Cannes in 1998.

Morvern Callar stars Samantha Morton, the Oscar-nominated co-star of Sweet and Lowdown, in the title role of a supermarket worker – another film being given Film Council backing.

All or Nothing, starring Timothy Spall and Lesley Manville, has been widely regarded as a shoo-in for Mike Leigh for some months.

David Cronenberg's Spider stars Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne and Lynn Redgrave in a murder story set in the East End in the 1970s and the present day.

A Film Council spokeswoman said not too much should be read into last year's failure of British films in the main competition because there was always business carried on alongside the judging of the high art. She said: "These things ebb and flow. Last year there were quite a lot of British movies being sold on the market side of Cannes."