Daniel Day-Lewis continued his domination of this year's awards ceremonies, taking his fourth Best Actor award for his highly rated portrayal of the US president Abraham Lincoln.
Day-Lewis, who lives in Wicklow, has already won a Golden Globe and other US awards for his role in the political biopic. He is also nominated for what would be his third Oscar.
Accepting his BAFTA, Day-Lewis poked fun at his own reputation for immersing himself in his characters and his devotion to method acting.
Day-Lewis, who reportedly refused to leave his wheelchair while playing the disabled Christy Brown in 'My Left Foot', said: "Just on the chance I might one day have to speak on an evening such as this I've actually stayed in character as myself for the last 55 years and had a various selection of Bafta sets downscaled, dating from the late fifties, placed in every single room of every house I've ever lived in and every time I rise from a chair it spontaneously unleashes a soundtrack of thunderous applause, with a few boos and some drunken hecklers."
Day-Lewis was joined at the event by some of the biggest names in Hollywood, who braved the wind, rain and sleet to meet fans on the red carpet outside the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden.
But it was 'Skyfall' that beat bookies' favourite 'Les Miserables' to win the outstanding film award – a first recognition for James Bond in 50 years.
The film, directed by Sam Mendes, beat stiff competition from 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel', 'Anna Karenina' and 'Seven Psychopaths'.
It was the first award for the 007 franchise since 1963, when it received a nod for cinematography for Ted Moore's 'From Russia With Love'.
Aside from that, it has received 42 nominations over the past 50 years, largely for technical awards rather than the more glamorous acting or best film categories.
Mr Newman thanked the original creators for the "iconic title track, which always makes everyone stand up and smile", as he accepted his composer's award. The recognition will bring fresh hopes for further success at this year's Oscars, where a special celebration honouring the Bond franchise is already planned.
'Skyfall' was nominated for a total of eight awards at the Baftas this year, including Dench, who lost out to Anne Hathaway in the best supporting actress category. It was the first time she had been recognised by Bafta for playing M, and follows her 17-year stint in the role. Hathaway, who is widely expected to win an Oscar for her role in 'Les Miserables', fought back tears as she accepted the accolade.
She said: "I share this with the cast and the crew who are the most golden-hearted group of loves whose talent knocks me sideways every day."
Paying tribute to her co-stars Hugh Jackman and Eddie Redmayne, who was backstage suffering from food poisoning, added: "Get well soon. I would be holding your head back, but, you know? ... "
Javier Bardem, who played the villain in 'Skyfall' to wide critical acclaim, was also nominated in the hotly contested category of best supporting actor, which was won by Christoph Waltz for his part in 'Django Unchained'.
"It all starts with Quentin Tarantino," he said.
"What touches me the most is your unconditional trust that I will put your creation to its proper use, you silver-penned devil you."
The best actress award when to Emmanuelle Riva, the 85-year-old French star of the film Amour. The best director award was won by Ben Affleck for the drama 'Argo'.
Earlier this week, Barry Norman, the veteran film critic, said: "Bafta doesn't like 007 much. Of late, I think a second kind of snobbery has come into play.
"Bond movies are now overlooked simply because the franchise is so successful – between them the films have grossed around $7bn (€5.2bn) at the box office.
"They are extremely popular, and earnest bestowers of film awards certainly don't want to be seen merely following public opinion." (© Daily Telegraph, London)