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The Oscars in the North: A recent history


MacKinnon and Saunders’ Pinocchio puppets may have been the only Northern success story at last night’s Oscars, but the North of England is no stranger to Hollywood’s glitziest night.

We don’t have to look far back in the history books to find more Northern Oscars involvement, so here’s a brief guide to some other Northerners who have made their Oscars mark in recent years.

Danny Boyle

Manchester’s resident Oscars-botherer-in-chief has three nominations to his name, including a coveted Best Director win for 2009’s Slumdog Millionaire and nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for 2011’s 127 Hours, where he lost out to The King’s Speech and The Social Network respectively.

He doesn’t seem to have let the 127 hours disappointment get him down too much. The following year he directed the spectacular opening ceremony for the London Olympics, and hit films since have included 2017’s well-received T2: Trainspotting sequel and the cheeky 2019 Beatles-inspired comedy Yesterday.

Currently, Boyle can probably be found deep inside Manchester’s soon-to-open Factory International planning for his October opening ceremony which it’s safe to assume, due to it not being in London, will outshine his Olympic spectacular by some distance.

Danny Boyle

Chris Butler

Manchester may have something of a reputation as an animation hotbed thanks to the likes of M&S and Cosgrove Hall, but it doesn’t get all the cred in the North West animation stakes.

ParaNorman and Missing Link writer and director Chris Butler may live in trendy Portland, Oregon, where he works for stop motion animation studio Laika Animation, but his roots are firmly on Merseyside – he’s an alumnus of Hugh Baird College and began his animation career in the converted loft bedroom of his family’s Maghull home. His mum told the Liverpool Echo in 2020 that there are still “boxes and boxes of his drawings and work in the loft.”

Both 2012’s ParaNorman and 2019’s Missing Link were nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, with the latter particularly fancied after it picked up a Golden Globe. Unfortunately it lost out to Toy Story 4 on that occasion, while ParaNorman was pipped by Disney too – on that occasion courtesy of Brave.

Missing Link
Missing Link publicity poster

John Rylands Library, Manchester Town Hall, Bramham Park and Bridworth Hall (ensemble award)

Joe Wright’s 2017 historical drama Darkest Hour picked up two awards, for Best Actor and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. The biopic of Britain’s infamous WWII leader Winston Churchill may scream “London” at first glance – its Oscar-winning star Gary Oldman’s bleak, semi-autobiographical 1997 directorial debut Nil By Mouth places the young Oldman firmly on South East London’s grim council estates and it’s no surprise that the bulk of Churchill’s wartime work took place in London, specifically in the Houses of Parliament.

Real-life London barely features in Darkest Hour, however. Manchester’s Town Hall and John Rylands Library both stood in for the Houses of Parliament location shoots, while Yorkshire stately homes Bramham Park and Brodsworth Hall were both stand-ins for 10 Downing Street in various scenes.

The locations aren’t technically hair and make up admittedly, but they’re definitely a key part of the film’s aesthetic, so we’re giving them a nod for helping out there.

John Rylands Library
John Rylands Library

Andrea Riseborough

We don’t have to look back into the history books to find more Northern Oscars winners and nominees. Just last night, Pinocchio’s Manchester-born puppets were joined at the ceremony by Whitley Bay native Andrea Riseborough, who was up for Best Actress for her role in To Leslie.

Riseborough’s nod was the only one for the film, based on a true story about a single mother who turns to alcohol after spending all of her lottery winnings. Alas, to absolutely nobody’s surprise she was beaten to the award by Michelle Yeoh in Everything, Everywhere All at Once.

Riseborough shouldn’t be too downhearted though – she has plenty of other awards under her belt, including Critics’ Choice and SAG awards for 2014’s Birdman and a 2008 RTS Award for The Devil’s Mistress.

To Leslie, Momentum Pictures/YouTube
To Leslie, Momentum Pictures/YouTube

Serena Armitage

North Yorkshire native Armitage picked up the 2016 Short Film Live Action prize as producer of Stutterer, and soon after took it to her former primary school’s summer fete to serve as inspiration to the school’s current crop of would-be Oscar winners.

Armitage told the Yorkshire Evening Post during the visit to Nun Monkton School outside York: “I have been overwhelmed by the reaction from the school and the village. I really hope my experience can inspire others and prove that even our wildest dreams can come true.”

Stutterer tells the story of the eponymous Greenwood, a chronic stutterer who learns sign language and feigns deafness to hide his speech impediment. Trivia fact: Prior to her big Oscars moment, Armitage had worked as director on more than 50 episodes of Channel 4 favourite Come Dine With Me.

Serena Armitage, LinkedIn
Serena Armitage, LinkedIn

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