Silent film ‘The Artist’ made a big noise at the BAFTA film awards tonight winning seven awards including Best Film, Leading Actor and Best Director.
The film – a homage to the silent era of Hollywood that was lost forever with the arrival of the talkies – swept the board.
The only low point was seeing its leading lady Berenice Bejo lose out in the Outstanding Actress award to Meryl Streep.
Streep, who picked up the prize for her role as Margaret Thatcher in ‘The Iron Lady’, said: “Somebody once said the fate of the well-known is to be misunderstood and the ambition of this film, ‘The Iron Lady’, was to look at the life of ‘The Iron Lady’ from the inside out and to locate something real, maybe hidden, but truthful in the life of someone we’ve all decided we know everything about already.”
The American actress also paid tribute to her ancestors who were – like Lady Thatcher herself – originally from Lincolnshire.
She said: “Half of me is Streep and the other half is Wilkinson from Lincolnshire so I come by it honestly, this part.”
The director of ‘The Artist’, Michel Hazanavicius, picked up the gong for Original Screenplay, saying: “I’m very surprised because so many people thought there was no script because there was no dialogue, so English people are very clever. Congratulations to you.”
Hazanavicius also picked up the Best Director award from Brad Pitt, saying: “I know that I will have some bad days because I’m a director, but I will remember this day as a good day.”
The film’s star, Jean Dujardin, was presented with the Leading Actor award by Spanish star Penelope Cruz.
He paid tribute to his award-winning director, saying: “Michel, what have you done to me? It’s all your fault.”
The French actor admitted he was surprised to get an award in the country of “Laurence Olivier, William Webb Ellis and Benny Hill”.
‘The Artist’ also picked up awards for Original Music, Cinematography and Costume Design.
The awards, held at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, central London, began with a bang with Sir Tom Jones belting out the theme to the ‘James Bond’ film ‘Thunderball’ – more than 40 years after he first recorded the song – to mark half-a-century of the superspy’s cinema adventures.
The event, officially known as the Orange British Academy Film Awards, is the biggest movie bash of the year in the UK and is seen as an accurate pointer for Oscar success which is only make ‘The Artist’ an even bigger favourite for success at the ceremony in Los Angeles later this month.
The award for Film Not In The English Language was given to Pedro Almodovar’s ‘The Skin I Live In’.
Actor-turned director Paddy Considine and Diarmid Scrimshaw won the gong for Outstanding Debut By A British Writer, Director or Producer for their film ‘Tyrannosaur’.
Helena Bonham Carter, who won the Best Supporting Actress award last year, gave the Best Supporting Actor gong to Christopher Plummer for ‘Beginners’.
Plummer, who was not at the ceremony, plays a widower who comes out as gay to his son after the death of his wife.
The award for Outstanding British Film was given to ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ by Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe who will play Bond girls in the next 007 film, ‘Skyfall’.
The Supporting Actress award was presented by Daniel Radcliffe to Octavia Spencer for ‘The Help’, which is set against the rise of the civil rights movement in the US deep south.
Spencer, whose co-star Jessica Chastain was also nominated for the award, said the win was “a surprise”.
She said: “It has been said ‘The Help’ is an American movie about American problems and American history and I am so grateful to you for seeing past that”.
Billy Bob Thornton presented John Hurt with the award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema and called him an “actor’s actor”.
Receiving a standing ovation from the audience, he added: “Who would have thought all those years ago that I would have been sharing the stage of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with Billy Bob Thornton? How fabulous.”
Hurt, whose career has seen him star in films including ‘Midnight Express’ and ‘The Elephant Man’, revealed his wife had advised him to bin the speech he had prepared because when he gives speeches he sounds “like somebody else”.
He went on to thank all the film makers he had worked with who he said had allowed him to be “the addition to their imaginations”.
The only gong voted for by the viewing public – The Orange Wednesdays Rising Star Award – was given to ‘Kidulthood’ actor Adam Deacon by Mad Men star Christina Hendricks.
Deacon, who said the award was “surreal”, added: “It’s not just a win for me, it’s a win for the underdog.”
Paul Bettany handed the award for Best Documentary to the makers of ‘Senn’a, about Formula One driver Ayrton Senna who died after he crashed in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
Hendricks’ co-star Jon Hamm gave the award for Adapted Screenplay to husband and wife team Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor for ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’.
Straughan paid tribute to O’Connor who died before the film came out, saying: “She wrote all the good bits, I made the coffee.”
He added: “Bridget, I love you, I miss you, this is for you.”
The night ended with a fulsome tribute to British cinema from ‘Raging Bull’ director Martin Scorsese who was given the BAFTA Fellowship.
He said British films were “a bit of a mystery and a great marvel”.