They are young, gifted and posh, and fighting evil at a cinema near you. Most importantly, they are British. Hollywood has always looked to us for acting talent, but at last it is moving past the idea that the UK can only supply camp, supercilious villains. Instead, producers are casting quirky-but-dishy British boys as heroic, romantic action film leads.
Robert Pattinson, 24, a big-haired, odd-shaped-face of a man, is turning teenage hearts to mush as Edward Cullen, the good vampire in the latest Twilight film, Eclipse, which took more than $90m at the US box office in its first few days last week.
At the same time, another public-school-educated, big-haired, odd-looking Englishman was plucked from near obscurity to front a Hollywood film juggernaut. Andrew Garfield, 26, was revealed as the new Spider-Man. He will replace the US actor Tobey MacGuire in the fourth instalment of the franchise about New York’s sticky-fingered superhero.
Garfield beat off stiff competition from fellow Brits such as Aaron Johnson, 20 – the star of one of the year’s biggest films, Kick Ass, and the partner of the artist Sam Taylor-Wood, who directed him in the John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy – and Jamie Bell.
Bell, 24, is best-known for starring in Billy Elliot, and is about to star as Tintin in Steven Spielberg’s blockbusting take on the crime-fighting boy reporter.
Garfield may be relatively unknown, but he has acting form, winning a Bafta in 2008 for his role as Jack in Channel 4’s hard-hitting Boy A. “Though his name may be new to many, those who know this young actor’s work understand his extraordinary talents,” the director Mark Webb said.
Orlando Bloom, 33, who can perhaps be credited with starting the trend in 2001 with his turn in The Lord of the Rings followed by Pirates of the Caribbean in 2003, is currently filming The Three Musketeers; Nicholas Hoult, 20, best-known as the weird-looking kid who starred opposite Hugh Grant in 2002’s About a Boy, has been tipped by Variety as one of Hollywood’s ones to watch and popped up in the special-effects blockbuster Clash of the Titans this year. He is also in the new Mad Max film, Fury Road, alongside another Brit, Tom Hardy, the 33-year-old public-school-educated star of Bronson.
Then there’s James McAvoy, 31, star of Atonement and Wanted, in which he appeared opposite Angelina Jolie. He is filming Wanted 2, a prequel from the multi-limbed X-Men franchise.
“These are all well-mannered, well-brought-up, well-spoken kids,” the film critic Barry Norman said. “I think the accent has a lot to do with it. That still appeals to American audiences. There’s also a kind of androgynous quality about some of them.
“They have an idealised boy-next-door appeal, and girls feel they could meet somebody like that – unlike someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. The fashion for those action heroes has obviously changed. Before them there was a different type of lead. Paul Newman and Gregory Peck were handsome and lean, but they didn’t spend all day in the gym.”