BAFTA Awards: How 'Three Billboards' Landed a Nom for a British Film Honor

Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox

Martin McDonagh's Midwestern drama is up for a best Brit award at Sunday's ceremony.

At the 2017 BAFTA Awards, the outstanding British film honor went to Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake, a gritty human tale about a carpenter from the north of England and his near-excruciating struggle to navigate the U.K.'s bureaucratic benefits system after having a heart attack. In other words, extremely British.

This year, among a crop of equally British titles sits a rather unusual entry. The nomination of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, despite director Martin McDonagh's burgundy British passport, has caused a little confusion in the U.S. Not only is the film's main cast almost exclusively American, but it also was shot in North Carolina, is based on a real-life American story and even includes the words "Ebbing, Missouri" right there in the title.

How, exactly, is this film British? The answer can be found in BAFTA's myriad list of rules and regulations.

To qualify for the outstanding British film category, the rules state that a film must "have significant creative involvement by individuals who are British (U.K. passport holders or permanent resident in the U.K. for at least 10 years up to and including the eligibility period)."

Alongside McDonagh, Three Billboards was produced by the British duo of Graham Broadbent and Peter Czernin for their Blueprint Pictures (headquartered on London's Great Portland Street), with half the funding coming from Film4, the movie arm of U.K. network Channel 4.

"A film like this — which doesn't look remotely British — does seem to crop up each year," admits one industry insider.

As it happens, last year there were two: American Honey (backed by Film4 and the British Film Institute) and Under the Shadow (which was in Farsi but produced by U.K.-based Wigwam Films). And in 2016, the winner was Brooklyn, named after the borough but produced by Brits, written by a Brit and backed by BBC Films. 

This story first appeared in the Feb. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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