British actors Carey Mulligan and Colin Firth were the stars of the Baftas - but sci-fi hit 'Avatar' failed to match its record-breaking box-office success with awards.
Iraq war drama 'The Hurt Locker' clinched best film over 'Avatar' – one of six Baftas it won including best director for Kathryn Bigelow, who is the ex-wife of 'Avatar' film-maker James Cameron.
Firth, 49, won his first Bafta for his role as a gay academic in fashion designer Tom Ford’s debut film 'A Single Man'.
The heartthrob beat US competition, including Jeff Bridges and George Clooney, while Mulligan, 24, won best actress for her leading role in coming-of-age film 'An Education', despite being almost unknown a year ago and having been rejected by three drama schools.
In his acceptance speech, Firth thanked his fridge repair man, saying he was about to email the director rejecting his offer to appear in the film when the repair man turned up and gave him a chance to have a change of heart.
“I was about to send this when a man came to repair my fridge... I don’t know what’s best for me so I would like to thank the fridge guy,” he said. “All I know is don’t ever press ’send’ until you have had your fridge repaired.”
Mulligan, who beat Hollywood veterans such as Meryl Streep, as well as Irish 'Lovely Bones' star Saoirse Ronan in her category, shook with emotion as she got to the stage to collect best actress and thanked her family.
Like Firth, she could now be set for Oscar success as both are up for best acting gongs next month.
She said: “I really didn’t expect this at all so I didn’t think of anything to say. Thank you so much Bafta. I was here a year ago and I didn’t imagine in a million years that this would happen.”
Backstage, Mulligan had to leave the stage after saying she was about to cry.
She was storing her trophy at “my parents’ living room, that’s the safest place for it,” because “I lose things,” she said. “Not that I would ever lose a Bafta.”
Mulligan was the only win for 'An Education', based on Lynn Barber’s memoirs, which had been nominated in eight categories.
US film-maker Bigelow said it was “beyond our wildest imagination” as she became the first woman to win the best director category and dedicated the award “to never abandoning the need to find a resolution for peace”.
The film also won original screenplay, cinematography, editing and sound.
One of the most emotional moments in the evening came when veteran actress Vanessa Redgrave received the Bafta Fellowship from Prince William, who has become President of Bafta after taking over from Lord Attenborough.
Redgrave, 73, whose actress daughter Natasha Richardson was remembered with a tribute after she died in a skiing accident last year, was supported by her daughter Joely Richardson at the glitzy ceremony.
Afterwards, she said: “It’s been a very emotional night. It’s the most special award I’ve ever had because it’s the country where I was born...the country where I studied and trained. It’s the country where I’m still a citizen and where a third of my family live...It’s huge.”
David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones won the debut director category for low-budget film 'Moon'.
Jones welled up with emotion and said: “It’s taken me an awful long time to know what I wanted to do with my life. Finally, I think I’ve found what I love doing.”
'Avatar', said to be the most expensive film made, only won two awards, both in the technical category.
Austrian actor Christoph Waltz won supporting actor for playing a bloodthirsty Nazi in 'Inglourious Basterds', while supporting actress went to Mo’Nique for her role in 'Precious'.
US 'Twilight' actress Kristen Stewart scooped the Orange rising star award, beating Mulligan and 'A Single Man' actor Nicholas Hoult among others.
The Orange British Academy Film Awards, as the Baftas are formally known, were held at a ceremony in London last night.