“The Artist,” a silent black-and-white movie about an actor past his peak, scooped seven prizes including best picture, director and actor at the British Academy Film Awards, or Baftas. Oscar victory may be next.
Meryl Streep, also an Oscar nominee, collected the best-actress trophy for her portrayal of U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” On her way up the stage, she lost a high-heeled shoe. The award’s presenter Colin Firth chivalrously slipped the shoe back on her foot.
Started in 1947 and honoring films produced worldwide and shown in U.K. cinemas, the Baftas are now held before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards, or Oscars, and get more noticed than before as a gauge of the year’s winners. The Oscars will be presented in Los Angeles on Feb. 26.
Jean Dujardin, the suave French face of “The Artist,” took to the podium after beating George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman and Michael Fassbender to the best-actor prize.
“I’m shocked to receive this award from the country of Laurence Olivier, William Webb Ellis, and Benny Hill,” said Dujardin, referring to the Shakespearean actor, the inventor of rugby, and the slapstick TV comedian. “C’est incroyable!”
Dujardin concluded: “And as Buster Keaton would say,” then went completely silent and pulled a serious face.
The four runners-up for best movie were: “The Descendants,” about a father whose adulterous wife is on life support; “Drive,” the story of a stuntman-mechanic with a troubled past; “The Help,” a drama about African-American maids in the 1960s; and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” adapted from the John Le Carre spy novel about a double agent.
“The Artist” is the story of a debonair silent-movie actor at the top of his game who shares palatial quarters with a wealthy wife and a charming dog. The advent of talkies gradually puts him out of business, plunging him into a cycle of debt and depression that only love could possibly cure.
The movie was directed by Michel Hazanavicius and produced by Thomas Langmann, whose father (the late French producer-director Claude Berri) shot “Jean de Florette” and “Manon Des Sources.”
Streep -- saluted by host Stephen Fry as “The Right Honorable Baroness Meryl Thatcher” -- dressed nothing like the ex-premier: She wore a snug black Vivienne Westwood gown with a plunging neckline. Still, she empathized with the baroness.
“Somebody once said the fate of the well known is to be misunderstood,” she said, uttering words that could apply as much to herself as to the “Iron Lady.”
Her rivals in the best-actress category were Berenice Bejo (“The Artist”), Michelle Williams (“My Week with Marilyn”), Tilda Swinton (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”) and Viola Davis (“The Help”).
Best-actor nominees were Pitt for “Moneyball,” Oldman for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” Clooney for “The Descendants” and Fassbender for “Shame.” All showed up, leading organizers to beef up security, even for journalists working backstage in the rehearsal rooms.
The tuxedo-clad Pitt, his shoulder-length hair parted in the middle, was mobbed on the way in, including by TV reporters more clued up on fashion than film. They had him confess that he was wearing Gucci, then asked that he lift up his trouser leg and show off his footwear. Pitt smiled politely and declined.
The cooing continued inside. Fry, the show’s host, asked Pitt to blow TV audiences a kiss. Pitt blushed, squirmed, then obliged. “A nation’s heart flutters,” Fry bellowed on stage. “Or is it just mine?”
The best-director nominees were Nicolas Winding Refn for “Drive,” Martin Scorsese for “Hugo,” Tomas Alfredson for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and Lynne Ramsay for “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”
Scorsese, a best-director nominee for “Hugo,” received a Bafta fellowship, while “Hugo” won for production design and sound.
(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)