LONDON (Reuters) - Black-and-white turned to gold as silent movie “The Artist” won seven BAFTA awards including best film at a ceremony in London on Sunday, raising expectations of a strong showing at the Academy Awards.
Meryl Streep clinched the leading actress prize for her portrayal of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher both as a politician at the height of her power and as a frail elderly lady suffering from dementia, in “The Iron Lady.”
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards are not always an accurate predictor of what is to come at the Oscars, but they are the most coveted film honours outside of the United States.
Streep, looking regal in a sparkling black gown with her hair piled high in an elaborate style, lost a shoe on her way up to the stage to collect her award.
“That couldn’t be worse,” she said, having recovered her shoe, to laughter and cheers from the audience at the Royal Opera House in the popular Covent Garden area of London.
Apart from Streep, the undisputed star of the night was The Artist, a French-made romance set in Hollywood in the 1920s and 30s. It had been nominated for 12 awards and walked away with the prizes for best film, leading actor, director, original screenplay, costumes, cinematography and music.
The film, which tells the story of a star of silent movies whose career is destroyed by the advent of “talkies,” had already done well at the Golden Globes and now has further momentum ahead of Oscar night in two weeks.
“I’m so proud that Brad Pitt pronounced my name so well,” said Michel Hazanavicius, the film’s director, as he accepted his award from the Hollywood heart-throb.
The film’s star, Jean Dujardin, was a surprise winner in the leading actor category. George Clooney had been the bookmakers’ favourite for his part as a man steering his family through troubled times while his wife is in a coma in “The Descendants.”
The Artist overshadowed the Cold War espionage thriller “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” which picked up only two prizes out of the 11 for which it had been nominated, outstanding British film and best adapted screenplay.
Peter Straughan, who created the script from a classic John Le Carre novel, brought both humour and emotion to the ceremony in his acceptance speech.
“I’d just like to thank The Artist for not being adapted from a book,” he said to laughter from the audience.
Straughan went on to pay homage to the co-winner of the award, his wife Bridget O’Connor, who died before the film was made.
“She wrote all the good bits and I made the coffee. So Bridget, I love you, I miss you, this is for you,” he said.
Streep, who has already won a Golden Globe for her turn as Thatcher, is heavily favoured to bag an Oscar for the role.
“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 that we’ve all decided we all know everything about already,” she said in her acceptance speech.
It was a second BAFTA win for Streep, who had received the 1981 leading actress prize for “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.”
While her performance in The Iron Lady has been well-received in Thatcher’s home country, the overall film has had lukewarm reviews.
The choice to dwell on the subject of Thatcher’s dementia has been criticised, not least by current British Prime Minister David Cameron, who like Thatcher is a Conservative.
Martin Scorsese had a mixed night at the BAFTAs. His first family film, “Hugo,” a 3-D adventure exploring the magic of movie-making in its early days, had been nominated for nine awards but went home with just two, for sound and production design.
Scorsese was also nominated in the documentary category for his film “George Harrison: Living in the Material World,” but there too he lost out, to “Senna,” a film about the life of the formula one champion Ayrton Senna.
However, the “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” director went home with a BAFTA Fellowship celebrating his life in cinema.
Editing by Paul Casciato