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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 January 2006, 17:48 GMT
Dame Judi heads UK Oscar charge
Dame Judi Dench
Dame Judi has gained her fifth Oscar nomination

Dame Judi Dench, Keira Knightley and Rachel Weisz are leading a strong set of UK contenders for 2006 Oscars.

Dame Judi and Knightley are up against each other for best actress - Dame Judi for Mrs Henderson Presents and Knightley for Pride and Prejudice.

Weisz is nominated for best supporting actress for UK thriller The Constant Gardener, which is also shortlisted for the best adapted screenplay Oscar.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is up for best animation.

Dame Judi has her fifth Oscar nomination for playing the theatre-owning heroine of Mrs Henderson Presents.

"It's absolutely wonderful! I'm absolutely thrilled," she said.

It is great to have this kind of recognition
Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park

"I'm so happy to be nominated for something I loved filming every single day."

Dame Judi and Knightley compete against Walk the Line's Reese Witherspoon, Transamerica's Felicity Huffman and North Country's Charlize Theron in the best actress category.

It is 20-year-old Knightley's first Oscar nomination, for playing Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.

Tim Bevan, founder of Working Title films, who produced the Jane Austen adaptation, was delighted, though surprised by the film's four nominations which included score, costume design and art direction.

"This was a nominations triumph for two reasons - Keira's knock-out performance, which was full of zest and energy, and the direction of Joe Wright," he told the BBC news website.

"In anyone else's hands it would not have worked. The craft nominations are down to him."

Bevan claimed the film's Oscar chances were "pretty negligible" against the universally acclaimed Brokeback Mountain, but added "the most important thing is to get Keira on the red carpet".

The Constant Gardener also picked up four nominations, and as well as Weisz's nod, it is up for best film editing, score and Jeffrey Caine's screenplay. The result was met with delight by the UK Film Council, who helped fund the film.

Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener

"These nominations demonstrate yet again the high level of creative skills and talent that we have in the British film industry," said John Woodward, of the UK Film Council.

Wallace and Gromit directors Nick Park and Steve Box said they were "delighted" at the nomination of The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

The film, the first full-length release featuring the "claymation" characters, won rave reviews and topped the US box office in October.

"We just make films for the love of it," Mr Park told BBC News 24. "It is great to have this kind of recognition."

"It feels like a great stamp of approval," said Mr Box. "This has been nerve-wracking enough, so heaven knows what it will like on the night."

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Keira Knightley

Park won his first Oscar in 1985 for the Creature Comforts animations, and went on to win two more for Wallace and Gromit's The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave.

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is competing against Tim Burton's Corpse Bride - made in the UK with British voice actors including Helena Bonham Carter, Joanna Lumley and Paul Whitehouse.

Badgered, by UK film-maker Sharon Colman, competes in the animated short film category, while Six Shooter and Cashback compete in the live action short film section.

The film-makers will be hoping to repeat Andrea Arnold's success with Wasp last year.

The Academy Awards ceremony takes place in Los Angeles at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on 5 March.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See a clip of Judi Dench in Mrs Henderson Presents



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