Associated Press
ROME ó Franco Zeffirelli, who has directed a series of Shakespeare movies and has often worked with British actors, received an honorary knighthood from Britain on Wednesday.
The 81-year-old Italian director, who is a known anglophile, received the honor at a ceremony at the residence of the British ambassador to Italy. Zeffirelli cannot call himself "sir" ó a distinction reserved for citizens of Britain and its former colonies ó but can use the initials "KBE" after his name. The initials stand for Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
"It's the greatest conquest, recognition, I have received in my life, practically," the director told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the ceremony. "I can't believe it."
Zeffirelli added he was "very grateful to Her Majesty the Queen and to the English friends who promoted this extraordinary occasion for me."
The honor was given "in recognition of the valuable services you rendered to British performing arts," the British ambassador, Sir Ivor Roberts, told Zeffirelli during the ceremony.
Among the attendees was Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a close friend. Zeffirelli is a member of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party and years ago he was elected to the Italian Senate with the party.
Zeffirelli's works include The Taming of the Shrew in 1967, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as the dueling lovers, and Romeo and Juliet, which received Oscar nominations for best film and best director in 1969, and won Academy Awards for costume design and cinematography.
In 1990, he directed Hamlet, starring Mel Gibson in the title role and Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia.
In Tea with Mussolini, a 1999 movie, Zeffirelli tells the semi-autobiographical tale of a boy in Florence who is surrounded by a group of eccentric English women. It stars Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Joan Plowright.
An opera-lover, Zeffirelli is also a renowned stage director and has worked in some of the best theaters in the world, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York and London's Covent Garden. This year he was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Theater Award for best set design for the play Absolutely! (Perhaps).
Recently Zeffirelli has been hired by Berlusconi to oversee the TV coverage of major political events, most notably last month's signing of the European Union Constitution.

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