Idris Elba

Idris Elba, left, and Riaad Moosa star in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." (Keith Bernstein / The Weinstein Co.)

There were no shortage of surprise names among the Golden Globes nominees announced Thursday: Sally Hawkins, Kate Winslet, Steve Coogan and Idris Elba, who nabbed either a screenplay nomination (Coogan) or acting nods (everyone else).

But the group has more in common than just some unexpected love from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.: All are British.

When confronted with a choice between Brits and Americans this year, the Golden Globes seemed to go out of its way to honor nominees from across the pond.

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Hawkins, nominated for her turn as a bohemian (and American) drifter in "Blue Jasmine," took a spot on the supporting actress shortlist many thought would go to Oprah Winfrey, a quintessentially American personality, playing in a quintessentially American story, "Lee Daniels' The Butler."

Elba, a Brit who played South African Nelson Mandela in Justin Chadwick's "Mandela," similarly garnered a nomination — for lead actor in a drama — that many pundits thought would go to "Butler" star Forest Whitaker.

On Wednesday, Whitaker was given a spot in the lead actor category by the Screen Actors Guild; Elba had come away empty handed.

The Brit brigade joins perhaps the day's biggest surprise — the best picture-drama nomination for "Rush," written by British favorite son Peter Morgan and centering on an English sports legend, the late Formula One race car driver James Hunt. The movie was also a box-office disappointment in the U.S. but a major hit in Britain.

PHOTOS: Golden Globes 2014 nominee reactions

All of these dark horses joined the ranks Thursday of British nominees who were previously considered contenders, a diverse list that includes Emma Thompson, Judi Dench and Chiwetel Ejiofor, all of whom scored acting nominations, and director Steve McQueen.

There may be a good reason for the outpouring of Union Jack affection: Brits make up the second-largest voting bloc (after Germany) of the approximately 90 members of the HFPA.

Nominees said they thought it had something to do with the work too.

"We British don't have a studio system and don't have limitless resources," said Coogan, nominated, with fellow Brit Jeff Pope, for the England-set and -themed "Philomena" script. "All we have is the power of good acting and good stories. That's the only rabbit we can pull out of a hat."

Thompson said she thought that her movie and Thursday's British invasion at the Globes was the product of a larger historical relationship.

"I would take it back to the vision of Henry James who wrote so brilliantly of Europe — and Britain — and America coming together," she said. "It's curious too because we [Britons] have a love affair with Hollywood, the new Olympus." She added, "There's sunshine, a fairy tale quality and people with good teeth."

steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

Times Staff writer Jeffrey Fleishman contributed to this report