Just over ten years ago, the powers that be at BAFTA — the British Academy of Film and Television Arts — took the wise decision to move their annual award ceremony up in the calendar so that it took place before the Oscars. Any perceived loss of stature (in theory, it sounds great to occur after the most glamorous awards show on earth, being the headliner to their opening act) is clearly offset by the reality: Hollywood’s A-List will surely show up to promote their films if it helps them attain their ultimate goal. (Sorry Britain, but that’s always going to be winning a little gold man.) And the comprehensive winner at the 65th BAFTAs — silent film The Artist, which added seven more awards to its ever growing trophy cabinet — will be hoping that silence truly is golden on Oscar night.
Braving the bitter winter cold in London’s Covent Garden were actors so famous, they’re known by their first names: George, Brad, Meryl and, er, Miss Piggy (hey, those Best Song awards don’t win themselves you know). Mr. Clooney was convinced (correctly, as it turned out) that he was in for a winless night, telling TIME on the red carpet, “Honestly, I think I’m going to go 0-6,” referring to the fact that he’d yet to win a BAFTA in four previous attempts and wasn’t holding out much hope with his two nominations this year for The Descendants and The Ides of March. “But I don’t mind that, it’s nice to be invited to the ballgame.” Clooney was respectful of the importance of the biggest night of the year for British film, noting that the BAFTAs are “getting better and bigger every year.”
(READ: TIME’s Oscar 2012 Coverage)
Emphasizing the team over the individual were those involved in The Help, who turned out in force. Octavia Spencer told TIME that “I don’t ever rank it in terms of the Oscars vs. the SAGs vs. the BAFTAs. The fact that they’ve thought about our film is overwhelming and it means a lot. It’s important to be recognized by an international community.” Her co-star Viola Davis, said that “I feel honored that they (BAFTA) even acknowledge my work.” Sadly for Davis, that’s as far as they went, with Best Actress going to Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady, though Spencer clinched the Best Supporting Actress prize. Come Oscar night, there’s every reason to expect both her and BAFTA’s pick for Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Plummer for his sweet turn as the elderly widower who comes out of the closet in Beginners) to repeat their success.
But these were merely the appetizers to the night’s major awards. The juggernaut that is The Artist proved that there’s certainly some entante cordiale between France and England as it swept all before it, winning seven BAFTAs, including Best Film, Director and Screenplay. “I’m very surprised, because so many people thought there was no script because there was no dialogue,” said director Michel Hazanavicius, adding that “English people are very clever. Congratulations to you.” And félicitations to Monsieur H: The Artist’s seven BAFTAs equals the number given to The King’s Speech last year and Slumdog Millionaire back in 2009 (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid holds the record with nine, followed by The Killing Fields with eight).
Slightly more surprising among its haul was the awarding of Best Actor to Jean Dujardin, with many tipping Clooney (The Descendants) and home-town hero Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as the favorites. Dujardin cannily charmed all before him, paying tribute to Britain as “the land of Benny Hill” and mimicked Buster Keaton at the podium. For Tinker Tailor, the gig was arguably up early on in the evening: by winning Outstanding British Film (beating out stiff competition in the shape of My Week with Marilyn, Shame, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Senna, which would deservedly win Best Documentary), it was always unlikely to double up with the main accolade. But Oldman missing out on Best Actor will be deemed a disappointment as, despite being able to console himself with finally snagging an Oscar nomination, the BAFTAs realistically represented his only chance of a major accolade. As for Dujardin, now adding a BAFTA to his recent Golden Globe, he might have to start writing that Oscar acceptance speech.
On her way up to accept the award for Best Actress for her portrayal of polarizing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Meryl Streep lost her stiletto shoe while taking to the stage. “That couldn’t have gone worse!” she yelled though could console herself that Colin Firth — who presented the prize — popped her shoe back on. In a show of few surprises, it was the only slip-up.
Full Winner List:
Jean Dujardin — The Artist
Meryl Streep — The Iron Lady
Michel Hazanavicius — The Artist
Octavia Spencer — The Help
Christopher Plummer — Beginners
Outstanding British film
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Film not in the English language
The Skin I Live In
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy — Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan
The Artist — Michel Hazanavicius
Hugo — Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo
The Artist — Guillaume Schiffman
Makeup and hair
The Iron Lady — Mark Coulier, J. Roy Helland, Marese Langan
The Artist — Mark Bridges
Senna — Gregers Sall and Chris King
Hugo — Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty, Tom Fleischman, John Midgley
The Artist — Ludovic Bource
Rising star award
Outstanding contribution to British cinema
Special visual effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 — Tim Burke, John Richardson, Greg Butler and David Vickery
A Morning Stroll — Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
Pitch Black Heist — John Maclean and Geraldine O’Flynn