British Best Actor Oscar winners

Oscars 2011: British Best Actor winners

Thirty one years later, Olivier, then aged 71, won again, this time picking up an Honorary Oscar “for the unique achievements of his entire career”. He accepted it with a gloriously overwrought speech.

“In the great wealth, the great firmament of your nation’s generosities, ” he said, “this particular choice may perhaps be found by future generations as a trifle eccentric, but the mere fact of it – the prodigal, pure, human kindness of it – must be seen as a beautiful star in that firmament, which shines upon me at this moment, dazzling me a little, but filling me with warmth of the extraordinary elation, the euphoria that happens to so many of us at the first breath of the majestic glow of a new tomorrow.”

In the Fifties, two Brits triumphed – Alec Guinness (The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957) and David Niven (Separate Tables, 1958).

Niven’s most memorable Oscars moment, however, came some years later in 1974. While he was hosting the 46th Academy Awards, 34-year-old Robert Opel ran across the stage naked during the live broadcast, making him probably the most-seen streaker in history.

Niven reacted with typically British sangfroid, remarking: “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen. But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”

The Sixties and Seventies saw just three winners: Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady (1964), Paul Scofield for A Man for All Seasons (1966) and Peter Finch for Network (1976).

Finch – who was born in London and moved to Australia aged 10 – won posthumously, the first actor to be so rewarded. The only other actor to have done the same since is Australian-born Heath Ledger, who won Best Supporting Actor in 2009 for his performance as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s Batman adventure The Dark Knight.

In 1982, Ben Kingsley won Best Actor for his Mahatma Gandhi in Richard Attenborough’s magisterial biopic of the Indian leader. The film also won Best Picture and Best Director.

Seven years later, Daniel Day-Lewis (who, incidentally, also appeared in Gandhi) won the top acting gong for his mesmerising performance in My Left Foot as Christy Brown, the Irish author and painter who had cerebral palsy.

Eighteen years later, in 2007, There Will Be Blood, the vastly different – though similarly intense – tale of a monstrous oil prospector, brought Day-Lewis another best-actor Oscar, making him the only Brit to win the award twice.

In 1990, former Playschool presenter Jeremy Irons won for playing Claus von Bulow – the wealthy socialite accused of the attempted murder of his coma-stricken wife – in Reversal of Fortune.

And the following year, Anthony Hopkins’s monstrous Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs was very much to the voters’ tastes.

Recalling the occasion earlier this month, Hopkins told interviewer Piers Morgan that thoughts of his father were uppermost in his mind as he went up on stage: “I’d been thinking of my father, because he died 10 years [previously] on that very night... I thought, ‘My father, he died 10 years ago tonight. I wonder if he’s around somewhere?’”

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