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Hollywood hadn't seen anything like it since the great Catwoman showdown of 1991. One part, and every actress in town wanted it. The part was Clara, the central character in Isabelle Allende's best-selling The House of the Spirits, which is being adapted for the screen by the Danish director Bille August. Good parts for women come along irregularly, and this one appeared to have everything. In the course of the story, a multi- generational saga, Clara ages from 18 to 60, getting plenty of big scenes (opposite Jeremy Irons) along the way. Oscars all round seemed to be beckoning.

Annette Bening was the early favourite, but when she retired, pleading the pressures of motherhood, Michelle Pfeiffer looked to be in the ascendancy. When she too dropped out, for reasons unknown, the contest was thrown wide open. Everyone and anyone was reported to have talked to the director: Geena Davis, Laura Dern, Isabelle Adjani, Winona Ryder, Juliet Stephenson, Julia Roberts, Andie MacDowell and Meg Ryan were all mentioned. Kim Basinger, Madeleine Stowe and Nicole Kidman were screen- tested.

Finally, it was announced that Meryl Streep had scooped the part from under the nose of Glenn Close. So far, the story makes sense - Streep is an old-hand at the art of the casting coup - but the reason given for her preference over Close is puzzling. The director was reported to be looking for someone 'younger' than Close, who is 45. Of course, that's why he turned to the 43-year-old Streep.

The sixth Leeds International Film Festival opens today. Highlights of the two-week event include screenings of Ridley Scott's 1492: The Conquest of Paradise and Alex Cox's Highway Patrolman, and the UK premiere of Barbet Schroeder's 'flatmate from hell' thriller, Single White Female, starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Independent readers can win free tickets to the festival screening of Neil Jordan's IRA drama, The Crying Game (20 Oct), and the UK premiere of Tale of a Vampire (30 Oct), with Julian Sands. Twenty pairs of tickets, 10 for each film, await the first callers to the festival box-office (0532 476962).