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 scooped 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 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. The film’s star, Jean Dujardin, was presented with the Leading Actor award by Spanish star Penelope Cruz.
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, 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 spy’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 makes The Artist an even bigger favourite for victory at the ceremony in Los Angeles later this month.
Helena Bonham Carter, who won Best Supporting Actress 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 future Bond Girls Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe.
The Supporting Actress award was presented by Daniel Radcliffe to Octavia Spencer for The Help.
Spencer, whose co-star Jessica Chastain was also nominated for the award, said the win was “a surprise”.
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 said: “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”.
The only gong voted for by the public — The Orange Wednesdays Rising Star Award — was given to Kidulthood’s Adam Deacon.