Battle royal

Any longform program hoping to win the Globes' top prize faces stiff competition from HBO's 'Elizabeth I'

It used to be that when it came to the longform categories at the Golden Globes, there was HBO ... and then there was everybody else. Although the cable network still produces a handful of projects every year -- a blend of high-profile epics and socially-responsible dramas -- it has cut back from the days when the made-for-TV movie was its qualitative calling card. Indeed, the longform genre itself simply has fallen out of favor, with but a smattering of event films and miniseries submitted for consideration.

That said, HBO remains the leader of this diminished pack, having dominated these races at the Globes over the past few years with the likes of 2003's "Angels in America," 2004's "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" and 2005's "Empire Falls" and "Lackawanna Blues."

And this year, it looks as though the race might well be over before it even begins, considering that all roads to Golden Globe glory in the best miniseries or motion picture made for TV competition must travel through HBO's four-hour mini "Elizabeth I" -- the story of the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn -- and its esteemed cast, which includes Helen Mirren, Jeremy Irons and Hugh Dancy.


Not only did the project win the prize for top miniseries -- and Mirren for lead actress -- at the Primetime Emmy Awards in August; Mirren also is, of course, being touted as the overwhelming favorite for both a Golden Globe and an Oscar next year for her much-raved performance as another Liz, Queen Elizabeth II, in Miramax's "The Queen." In fact, she could become the first performer to win two lead acting trophies for different roles in the same Globes year.

Mirren herself is naturally loathe to discuss this whole odds-on favorite business, which she called "strange" during a telephone interview from the set of her latest film, New Line's planned 2008 release "Inkheart," in Italy. "I honestly just do my best and then go on to the next thing and forget about it," she maintains. "By the time awards season comes around, it's pretty old stuff."

At the same time, Mirren says that the buzz over her regal year is "quite gratifying," particularly in the case of the HBO project.

"I am so incredibly proud of 'Elizabeth I,'" she says. "While I was doing it, I thought, 'It's never going to get as good as this again. Ever.' The role, the writing, the complexity and emotional demands (occupied) every second of every day. It took everything I had. And truly, of the two movies in which I portrayed queens, the role in the HBO film is the one I feel most passionate about, which is not to shortchange 'The Queen.' But 'Elizabeth I' truly demanded all of my abilities and technique."

Not surprisingly, the chief competition that "Elizabeth I" figures to face in the best movie/miniseries race will come from fellow HBO originals. Chief among these is the biopic "Mrs. Harris," the story of Jean Harris and her murder of Scarsdale Diet doctor Herman Tarnower, which earned several Emmy nominations this year for top TV movie as well as mentions for leads Annette Bening and Ben Kingsley. There also is the acclaimed docudrama "Walkout," from producer-director Edward James Olmos and starring Michael Pena and Alexa Vega, as well as the artful "Angel Rodriguez," featuring Jonan Everett.

Also in the running for Globe nomination slots are telepics including A&E's Emmy-nominated Sept. 11 docudrama "Flight 93," BBC America's Miranda Richardson/Bill Nighy starrer "Gideon's Daughter" and a trio of Lifetime projects: "A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story," starring Mercedes Ruehl; "The Mermaid Chair," starring Kim Basinger; and "Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy," starring Sarah Chalke.

Among miniseries, the favorites (besides "Elizabeth I") include FX Network's limited-run series "Thief" (which earned an Emmy win for star Andre Braugher this year), the second season of the Showtime thriller "Sleeper Cell," which is set to air Dec. 10-17, and a pair of PBS "Masterpiece Theatre" multiparters: "To the Ends of the Earth" and "Bleak House," starring Gillian Anderson and Charles Dance.

AMC could well join the longform fray this year with its first-ever original film project: the four-hour Western "Broken Trail," starring Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church, which set network ratings records in June.

AMC executive vp programming and production Rob Sorcher believes the film "provides a unique take on the genre that stands out from the crowd."