BRITS BLITZ: What Do US Film Critics Think Of Our Biggest Home-Grown Stars?

For the past fortnight, we’ve been championing those British stars who’ve broken beyond these soils to fly the flag in the competitive worlds of film, TV and music.

Read more about the Brits flying the flag for music, TV and film in our special #BRITSBLITZ section:

When British screenwriter Colin Welland raised his Oscar to the sky in 1981 and said ‘The British are coming’, he can have had no idea how true his words would prove. Since then, Jeremy Irons, Colin Firth, Eddie Redmayne, Helen Mirren, Dame Judi Dench and Kate Winslet have all been among those making their way west and prompting nabbing a statuette or two for their troubles.

Colin Firth with his Oscar for that most British of roles, King George VI in 'The King's Speech'

But, what do the Americans make of this UK exodus, and the mass of actors turning up on the doorstep, and often stealing the best jobs in both film AND TV? HuffPostUK asked two of the US’s most thoughtful film critics – New York-based Jordan Hoffman and LA Weekly’s Amy Nicholson - to give us their perspective of our home-grown actors – how they’ve managed to do it, and what it means for their own home-grown aspirants…

When asked to name a British star – male or female – who are the three names that immediately come to your mind?

Jordan Hoffman: Alan Rickman, Dame Judi Dench, Keira Knightley. And that was really a word association, off the top of my head reaction.

Amy Nicholson: Dan Stevens, Gemma Arterton, Daniel Craig. I'm genuinely not sure why those three - though I love Stevens - but they were literally the first three in my head. I'm hoping Dan Stevens will get that big role that will make him a superstar. I'd love to see Dan Stevens and Tom Hiddleston revive the romantic comedy by taking on those roles Hugh Grant used to do.

What about slightly further back into the 20th century? Who do you consider the first big British global screen superstars? And who’s the biggest of all?

JH: Olivier, for sure.

AN: I think of Olivia De Havilland, Rex Harrison, Richard Burton. Oddly, I think Hollywood reserves ultimate A-level superstar status for Americans - Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Johnny Depp - but perhaps that's why we've had a hard time finding new superstars.

Kate Winslet won her Oscar for 'The Reader'

Why do Brits work so well as villains on the big screen?

JH: It’s the accent. It’s so intimidating.

AN: I think Americans find their accents intelligent, confident and intimidating. They sound like they could out-think our hero and give them a worthy fight.

What are the positive qualities that you associate with British screen stars?

JH: The accent! Classes everything up. And here’s something you Brits don’t know. Even your low-born accents with its “wiv”s and “fings” sound classy to us.

AN: I think we have this subconscious idea that British actors grew up doing theater, while our American talent was simply discovered for being attractive. This might not even be true, but since it's an ocean away, we can imagine anything.

Eddie Redmayne was a popular winner this year for his role of Stephen Hawking in 'The Theory of Everything'

We still laugh at Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, but is there any actor whose valiant attempts to perfect an American accent on screen have left you bemused?

JH: Poor Ewan McGregor.

AN: I think I'm particularly deaf to bad accents. Unless they're fake Texas, I never hear them at all.

Why do you think they appeal in such large numbers to US filmmakers and TV producers?

JH: Maybe this has to do with arts educations in the schools? More time and money pumped into theatre in general?

AN: There's this idea of class and pedigree. Even if they aren't all Shakespearean-trained, they sound Shakespearean to us.

Is it a good thing for cinema? Any concerns?

JH: Good is good. I don’t care where the actors come from.

AN: Sure, though I am worried that we haven't done a good job finding the new crop of young male stars here in America. We keep importing them from the UK and Australia.

Is there a recognisable ‘something’ that Brits have on screen, that us fellow Brits wouldn’t necessarily spot, but you can – is this a ‘brand’ of sorts?

JH: I don’t necessarily see it with acting, but I do see it with British screenwriting. Unlike in the US system, it feels like nothing goes to shoot until the script is really ready. ‘Ex Machina’ as an American film would’ve been “Sex robots? Great, let’s do it!” right off the pitch, before the damn thing got written. Maybe we feel like so many British actors are better than American ones because we first see them in British films or television, which have a different process that emphasizes good writing.

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