I’m the first to admit that I don’t tend to take great interest in press releases announcing the umpteenth honorary award winner of the season — while frequently deserved and hard-earned, such honors can seem like unspecific garnish beside their tangier competitive counterparts.
Still, having now served for two years on the awards committee of the London Film Critics’ Circle, I’m well aware of the extensive consultation and organization that goes into such seemingly simple awards. As we tried to decide on a recipient for next year’s Dilys Powell Award — recognizing outstanding contribution to British cinema — a lengthy list of candidates was considered and debated over several meetings and countless emails, until one outstanding name was roundly agreed upon: Helena Bonham Carter.
Bonham Carter is no stranger to the London critics’ shindig, having won our British Actress of the Year award 15 years ago for “The Wings of the Dove.” Her career has grown and shifted so much since then, however, that the time feels ripe for a cumulative honor. Once the quintessential English rose, rarely seen out of a corset, she has grown, via “Fight Club,” “Harry Potter” and her personal and professional partnership with Tim Burton, into something considerably more fun: one of the British acting community’s grandest, most agreeably eccentric character actors. (She has since been nominated three more times by the LFCC, for “Sweeney Todd,” “The King’s Speech” and “Alice in Wonderland.” Please don’t yell at me about that last one; I wasn’t a member then.)
This award comes at the end of a year in which Bonham Carter has also been honored with a BFI Fellowship, while playing the eccentric card even more gleefully than usual on screen. Recently, she’s taken on both Miss Havisham in “Great Expectations” and Madame Thénardier in “Les Misérables,” with another Burton caricature (“Dark Shadows”) thrown in for good measure. She could feasibly wind up also nominated for Best Supporting Actress by the critics, but either way, we’re guaranteed her reliably entertaining presence (and speech) at the ceremony in January. (Sadly, I’ll be far from home at the Sundance fest.)
With typically good humor, Bonham Carter offered this statement: “To be chosen for this award is a surprise and an honour. I am delighted! It’s always nice when critics say something nice about you for a change, and especially the critics in your hometown.”
Previous recipients of the Dilys Powell Award include Kristin Scott Thomas, Judi Dench, Mike Leigh, Michael Caine, Charlotte Rampling and last year’s choice, Nicolas Roeg.
This announcement, meanwhile, precedes the nominations for the London Film Critics’ Circle Awards, which will be unveiled on Monday. (I’m still in the process of trying to pull my ballot into some sort of shape before Friday’s deadline.) The awards ceremony, this year held in aid of the charity Missing People, will take place in Mayfair on January 20.