LONDON - "The Constant Gardener" flew the flag for Britain when BAFTA nominations were announced, but George Clooney could be the big winner when the British film industry hands out its top awards next month.
The political thriller based on the John Le Carre novel was the only British entry in a Hollywood-dominated shortlist for Best Film. Its stars, Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, were up for top acting honours among the 10 it garnered in total.
Clooney will be competing against himself when the awards are announced on February 19. He was nominated best actor in a supporting role for "Syriana" and "Good Night, And Good Luck".
He is also vying for a BAFTA for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for "Good Night, And Good Luck" about a US anchorman battling America's anti-Communist witch hunt.
"What a versatile man he is. I hope George is sitting in the room when the winners are announced," said British Academy chairman Duncan Kenworthy.
Judi Dench received the 11th BAFTA nomination of her career for "Mrs Henderson Presents" about a 1930s widow who buys an abandoned theatre and stages the country's most famous nude review.
"It was such a surprise," she said after being nominated for Best Actress.
But Dench, who has been nominated for both a Golden Globe and now a BAFTA for her feisty role, was reluctant to talk about momentum building up to the Oscars.
"It is not good to cross the bridge before you get to it," said Dench, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1998 for her cameo role in "Shakespeare in Love."
The BAFTAs were moved in 2001 from April to February to fall between the Golden Globes and the Oscars in a bid to capture some Hollywood glitter in the cinema awards season.
BAFTA organisers hope Hollywood studios will provide a full house of top stars when the awards are announced, although a BAFTA win is no guarantee of Oscar success.
Last year Clint Eastwood's boxing drama "Million Dollar Baby" swept the board at the Oscars, but failed to score at the BAFTAs after distributors refused to send out copies of the film to voters.
The big blockbusters of 2005 - Harry Potter, Narnia and King Kong - surprisingly failed to feature in the major BAFTA nominations.
Gay cowboy film "Brokeback Mountain" scooped nine nominations with its stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal honoured along with director Ang Lee. All are hot favourites to land Oscars in March.
"Crash", which explores race and class among young Americans, also garnered nine nominations, including Best Picture.
Signals were mixed from the film industry last year. Box office receipts bucked the downward European trend but film production slumped due to uncertainty over the government's tax regime.
"Out of all the major markets, it was the only one to show growth. We were up one per cent," said Mark Batey of the UK Film Distributors' Association trade group.
"There was a whole run of British stories that reached the screen in 2005 and audiences responded well. Cinema admissions have been on an upward trend since 1985 and that is continuing," he said