Britons make history with Oscar triumphs

Film awards: Unprecedented achievements by Emma Thompson and Nick Park
MARIANNE MACDONALD

Arts Correspondent

Emma Thompson won an unprecedented double on Monday night when she was awarded an Oscar for her adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Coming on top of her 1991 Oscar for best actress in another classic British adaptation, Howard's End, it made her the first woman to win both a screenplay award and an acting honour.

"Before I came, I went to visit Jane Austen's grave in Winchester cathedral to pay my respects and tell her about the grosses," Thompson joked as she accepted the award in Los Angeles on Monday night.

Also celebrating an extraordinary achievement was Nick Park, the Bristol- based creator of the ingenious inventor Wallace and his long-suffering dog Gromit, who has won awards for every film he has entered. This year he won his third Oscar in a row for his animated film A Close Shave.

A third Oscar was won for Britain by Jon Blair for his documentary, Anne Frank Remembered.

Emma Thompson, who recently broke up with her husband, the actor/director Kenneth Branagh, had also been nominated for best actress for her role as Elinor in Sense and Sensibility, but that went to Susan Sarandon for the nun in Dead Man Walking. British actresses who have won the elusive best actress double include Elizabeth Taylor and Olivia De Havilland.

Nick Park - the first Briton to win three Oscars - confirmed after the ceremony that he was involved in talks with Hollywood executives about making a feature-length animated film. But he says is determined not to recreate Wallace and Gromit for it, even though he has admitted that Gromit resembles himself in "always carrying the baggage of the past and the worry of the future".

He said after the award ceremony: "I'm sitting down to write a feature film that has been pitched to quite a few people here. Wallace and Gromit will be put on the shelf for a while."

Mel Gibson, director and star, took the best film and best director for Braveheart, his savage and controversial tale of the 13th-century Scottish patriot William Wallace. The film also won awards for sound effects, make- up and cinematography, cleaning up a resounding five Oscars in all and prompting predictions of a renewed tourist boom in Scotland as well as a resurgence of nationalism.

Other award winners included Nicolas Cage, for his portrait of a suicidal alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas, and Kevin Spacey for best supporting actor in The Usual Suspects.

Mira Sorvina won best supporting actress for Mighty Aphrodite - beating the young British actress Kate Winslet who had been nominated for her role as Marianne in Sense and Sensibility - while Christopher McQuarrie took best screenplay (written directly for a film) for The Usual Suspects.

Jon Blair, after accepting his Oscar for the film about the young girl whose diary recorded her two years of hiding in Amsterdam from Nazi troops, introduced his frail companion on stage as Miep Gies, who helped keep the Frank family alive in their attic hiding place.

"Without her, Anne Frank's story might never have been told. She found her diary on the floor," he said to a wave of applause. Both Anne Frank Remembered and A Close Shave will be shown by the BBC over Easter.

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