BAFTA Awards: 'The King's Speech' wins best picture, three acting races

"The King's Speech," the breakout movie about a British monarch's triumph over a debilitating stutter, scored a knockout hometown victory Sunday, winning best picture and all three acting categories for which it was nominated at Britain's top film awards.


FOR THE RECORD:
BAFTA Awards: An article in the Feb. 14 Calendar section about the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards said lead actor winner Colin Firth wore a kilt to the ceremony. Firth discussed wearing a kilt with the media but wore a tuxedo to the event. —


The period drama landed seven of the 14 awards it was up for, including a statuette for Colin Firth as lead actor, further solidifying his status as the prohibitive favorite for the Oscar. Natalie Portman, who is pregnant and did not travel to the ceremony, was named lead actress for her turn in the ballet thriller "Black Swan," the film's sole win of the night, despite 12 nominations.

Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, who played speech therapist and wife to Firth's King George VI, took home the supporting actor and actress prizes.

The only major award to elude "The King's Speech" at the Orange British Academy Film Awards was director, for Tom Hooper. That honor went to David Fincher, who directed "The Social Network," which collected two other awards, including one for Aaron Sorkin for his adapted screenplay about the creation of Facebook.

Firth, universally lauded for his portrayal of stammering George VI, earned an extra long ovation from the audience upon becoming the first man to nab the actor's prize two years in a row since Rod Steiger more than four decades ago. Firth won last year for his role in the movie "A Single Man."

He joked about having deferred "a routine but possibly somewhat uncomfortable medical examination" in order to attend his first meeting with director Hooper.

"It became apparent that Tom's working methods were every bit as thorough, as surprising and as effective as those of my doctor. So perhaps one never truly escapes one's fate," said Firth, who wore a kilt for the ceremony inside the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden.

He now must hope to avoid a different kind of repeat of last year, when he beat out Jeff Bridges for the British academy's award but lost to his fellow nominee at the Oscars. Bridges is again a nominee on both sides of the Atlantic for his performance in "True Grit," but in a reversal, Firth is the firm favorite this time, having picked up just about every acting prize possible over the last two months.

Other awards Sunday went to "Toy Story 3" for animated film and Sweden's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" for foreign-language picture. The mind-bending thriller "Inception" and "The Social Network" tied with three wins apiece: sound, visual effects and production design for "Inception"; editing, adapted screenplay and director for "The Social Network."

Like the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs are closely watched as a predictor for the Oscars on Feb. 27. But with its home-turf advantage, most industry watchers and members of the star-studded London audience expected a cleanup by "The King's Speech," which is nominated for 12 Oscars, the most of any film.

The host of the show, comedian Jonathan Ross, assured the crowd that "The King's Speech" couldn't possibly sweep all the night's laurels.

"Stuttering isn't a foreign language," Brand said. "If you're stuttering in English, it's still English. They won't get that one."

But the tone was set with the first award of the evening, for original music, which went to Alexandre Desplat for "The King's Speech." Except for a mini-streak by "Inception," which dominated the first third of the ceremony, the cast and crew of the British period piece were rarely off the stage. It also won for outstanding British film and its writer, David Seidler, took the original screenplay award.

Rush's win as supporting actor was probably the most uncertain; many felt that the late Pete Postlethwaite, who died of cancer last month, would emerge as the sentimental favorite for his work as a gangster in "The Town."

Bonham Carter, who has left other award ceremonies empty-handed, also expressed surprise at her win.

"I am so used to losing — it is quite a strange feeling to win. It feels very nice but, no, children, if you are watching, it is not about the winning," she said to laughter, then added: "It still feels nice."

In a rambling but entertaining speech, she also thanked Britain's royal family, because "they have done wonders for my career this year, and I seem to be playing queens with ever-decreasing head sizes," she said, referring to her previous role as the Queen of Hearts in "Alice in Wonderland," which won two awards Sunday, for costume design and makeup.

Firth said after the ceremony that he refused to look ahead, despite all the statuettes now cluttering his shelves at home.

"I have developed a wonderful sort of obliviousness to people quoting odds at me, because it will do your head in," Firth said. "And we always know that odds are what they are: They're numbers, and upsets happen."

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts also presented a special award to the hugely successful Harry Potter franchise for its contribution to British film. Author J.K. Rowling was on hand to help receive the award on a blustery, rainy evening that did not deter the autograph-seeking fans who crowded the red carpet outside the Royal Opera House as celebrities arrived.

henry.chu@latimes.com

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