'Today’s young British stars are different creatures. Gym-toned, buff, flanked by their super agent and accent coach, they aspire to ambidextrous, trans-Atlantic careers — more American than the Americans. When Christian Bale loosed a torrent of expletives on the set of Terminator: Salvation after a director of photography walked into shot, the greater shock for Americans was not his language, but the accent it was delivered in: “Christian Bale is British???” spluttered one blogger. After playing an English-rose-in-bloom in An Education, Carey Mulligan couldn’t pluck her own petals fast enough, first in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, then Nicolas Winding Refn’s ultra-violent thriller Drive, and then Steve McQueen’s numb sex-addiction drama Shame — a record-breaking trip to the dark side, achieving in two years what Helena Bonham Carter managed only after two decades of patient struggle.
Partly, it’s a generational shift — Mulligan and Garfield are the children of globalization, the internet, Labor’s ‘rebranded’ Britain. Mulligan was born in 1985, the same year A Room With A View was released, the flagship of the Merchant Ivory fleet. So was Kiera Knightley. Garfield and Henry Cavill were born two years earlier in 1983. The girls were five and the boys were seven when Tim Burton’s Batman all but blotted out the moon. The big British hits of their youth were Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Trainspotting (1996), an odd couple on the face of it, but both rooted in a particular world — West London and Glasgow, respectively — and also possessed of the double-jointed marketing savvy to view those worlds from the outside, thus playing like gangbusters for foreign audiences.
Slumdog Millionaire pulled off much the same trick — a self-conscious exoticism that exactly catches the flavor of national identity in the globalized, internet age. Caught in the moon-glow of YouTube, the Disney channel and The X Factor, kids dream the same dreams now, from Brixton to Bangladesh. The great question driving the internet, above all others, is “Who are you?” — or, as the first line of Hamlet has it, “who’s there?” The web has made Hamlets of us all, soliloquizing into the ether, fishing for contact, both newly conscious of our national identity and quick to discard it if we don’t find it working for us — if it doesn’t ‘play.’ “I'm not American and I'm not French, actually,” Michel Haznavicious told the DGA when he accepted his directing award for The Artist last year. “I'm a filmmaker.” A canny bit of awards-season politics, perhaps, in which one feels the hand of the maestro himself, Harvey Weinstein. But a revealing glimpse into the multi-colored fuse-box that is the soul of the 21st-century entertainer. Just don’t tell Superman. I think the guy is an illegal alien.'