Mirren and Hornby lead British charge

Helen Mirren fulfils the unofficial requirement for at least one British Dame to be in the running for a Best Actress Oscar, but the big story for home-grown talent this year involves two of our most celebrated comic writers: Nick Hornby and Armando Iannucci.

The duo will compete for the Best Adapted Screenplay award after their respective films An Education and In the Loop managed to confound the old stereotype about English humour failing to translate into laughs when it is screened to American audiences.

Many of Hornby's hugely successful novels have been made into films, but An Education represents his first Oscar nod. It was adapted from journalist Lynn Barber's coming-of-age memoir, about a 16-year-old schoolgirl who falls in love with an older man in the early 1960s.

Despite An Education's relatively paltry budget of just £4.5m, the BBC movie has already garnered almost twice that at the box office. It got three nominations, including Best Picture, and Best Actress for its young star Carey Mulligan, who was in her first major role.

"An Education is a small film, which is very true to the vision of its creators," Christine Langan, the head of BBC films, told The Independent yesterday. "The writing is very well observed, and it's great to see that the quirkiness of the British humour in it can be appreciated across the Atlantic."

Iannucci's satire In the Loop also represents a coup for the BBC. It was developed from his television show The Thick of It, and follows a fictional British Prime Minister and US President attempting to mislead their public into supporting a war in the Middle East.

"It's irreverent, fast, clever, funny and relentless in pursuit of the idiocy and egos of politicians and the mundanity of their corruption," added Langan. "So it's a great way of looking at universal frailties of the human condition."

Iannucci, who co-wrote the film with Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche, offered a somewhat less highbrow reaction. "Bloomin' heck!" he exclaimed on Twitter. "In the Loop nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Bonk me purple."

Other British contenders on 7 March will include Wallace & Gromit creator Nick Park, for his short animation A Matter of Loaf and Death. The BBC film Bright Star and the independent title The Young Victoria have received nods in technical categories.

Colin Firth could be the one to steal headlines, though. He is shortlisted for Best Actor for his stellar performance in A Single Man, Tom Ford's adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel about a bereaved, middle-aged gay man.

"I thought I was managing my expectations, but on hearing the news I discovered new and unfamiliar vocal tones," said Firth yesterday. "Perhaps I should do another musical."

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