Bafta victory for 'Philomena' as Oscar race picks up pace
A film about an Irish woman who was forced to give up her baby for adoption has won a BAFTA award for best adapted screenplay.
'Philomena', starring British actress Judi Dench in the lead role was also nominated for Leading Actress and Outstanding British Film gongs.
But it was the screenplay, written by the film's co-star, British comedian Steve Coogan, and Jeff Pope, that won the coveted award at a star-studded ceremony at London's Royal Opera House last night.
The story of Jane Lee (Anna Maxwell Martin) who discovers that her mother Philomena was forced to give up her baby to nuns at Roscrea Abbey in 1952 when she was a teenager was shot on location in Killyleagh, Co Down.
The small budget film has done exceptionally well at the box office and faced stiff competition from Hollywood blockbusters, including '12 years a Slave', 'The Wolf of Wall Street' and 'American Hustle.'
While the unflinching drama '12 Years a Slave' took the top prize for director Steve McQueen's brutal depiction of a free black man who is kidnapped and forced into servitude in the American Deep South in the 1800s, Irish actor Michael Fassbender, who was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for his role as ruthless slave owner Edwin Epps, lost out to actor Barkhad Abdi in 'Captain Phillips.'
The film also won Best Actor for Chiwetel Ejiofor's riveting portrayal of freeman turned slave Soloman Northup.
Mr Ejiofor told the director: "This is yours. I'm going to keep it – that's the kind of guy I am – but it's yours."
McQueen reminded the ceremony's black-tie audience that, in some parts of the world, slavery is not a thing of the past.
"There are 21 million people in slavery as we sit here," he said.
"I just hope 150 years from now our ambivalence will not allow another filmmaker to make this film."
Cate Blanchette, who famously portrayed slain 'Sunday Independent' journalist Veronica Guerin in the film named after the crime writer, won Best Actress for Woody Allen's 'Blue Jasmine'.
She dedicated her win to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died earlier this month in New York of a suspected heroin overdose, calling him "a continual profound touchstone".
She said: "Phil, buddy, this is for you, you bastard. I hope you're proud."
At one point it had looked like outer-space drama 'Gravity', starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, was going to sweep the board. It won six Baftas including outstanding British film and best director for Mexican film-maker Alfonso Cuaron who beat the much-fancied McQueen to the award.
Accepting his award, Cuaron said: "You can not tell from my accent but I consider myself a part of the British film industry".
Telling the audience, he had made "almost half" of his films in the UK, he joked: "I guess I'm a very good case for curbing immigration"
Con-artist caper 'American Hustle' charmed its way to three prizes, including original screenplay and supporting actress for Jennifer Lawrence. Its spectacular 70s stylings took the hair and makeup award.
The supporting actor prize went to Barkhad Abdi, who made an explosive screen debut as a Somali pirate in 'Captain Phillips.'
The 28-year-old called his experience of going from obscurity in Minnesota to stardom - complete with an Oscar nomination - "surreal."
Praising the other Somali actors who played his fellow pirates, he said: "We came from nothing and we got this."
In the past few years, the British prizes, known as BAFTAs, have helped underdog films, including 'Slumdog Millionaire,' 'The King's Speech' and 'The Artist,' gain Oscars momentum.
The awards have become an essential stop for many Hollywood stars before the Academy Awards, held this year on March 2.
The sun shone as nominees including Leonardo DiCaprio and '12 Years a Slave' performer Lupita Nyong'o- striking in a green Dior gown – walked the red carpet outside London's Royal Opera House.
Best-actress nominee Amy Adams wore a black dress by Victoria Beckham, and revealed the inspirations for her 'American Hustle' character's faux-British accent: "Marianne Faithfull and Julie Christie."
There was royalty of the Hollywood kind - Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, wearing matching tuxedos. And there was British royalty, too, in the form of Prince William, honorary president of the film academy.
The documentary prize went to "The Act of Killing," a powerful look at hundreds of thousands of killings carried out in 1960s Indonesia in the name of fighting communism by death squads that went unpunished.