'The Artist' dominates BAFTAs

— The breakout silent movie "The Artist" continued its unscripted run of awards glory Sunday when it was named best film and claimed six other trophies at the British film awards, including director and lead actor.

Frenchman Michel Hazanavicius, who shot the movie in black and white, added to his growing pile of laurels by beating Hollywood legend Martin Scorsese, who directed "Hugo." Hazanavicius also won for his original screenplay, a less expected honor for a film of few words.

"I'm very surprised," he said. "So many people thought there was no script because there was no dialogue.

"So English people are very clever. Congratulations to you," Hazanavicius said, drawing laughter from the glittering audience gathered inside London's Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

Meryl Streep overcame any prejudice facing a Yank playing a Brit by winning the lead actress award for her portrayal of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." Jean Dujardin, the leading man in "The Artist," overtook hometown favorite Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" as lead actor as well as international heartthrob George Clooney in "The Descendants."

All told, "The Artist" made good on seven of its field-leading 12 nominations, including victories for original music and cinematography.

The feel-good tribute to the early days of the movie industry, with wins at the Golden Globes last month and from various critics' associations, is now a clearer favorite for best picture at the Academy Awards later this month. It boasts 10 Oscar nominations, one fewer than "Hugo."

All the winners in the major categories are nominated for Oscars as well, though the awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) have not been foolproof predictors of Oscar success. Streep beat Viola Davis, who has won numerous awards for her role as a maid in "The Help," including the SAG lead actress award two weeks ago.

A flustered Streep lost one of her spiky pumps on her march to the podium, which gave presenter Colin Firth the chance to slip it back on her foot like a blushing Prince Charming. Streep noted that her mother's family traced its roots to the same English county where Thatcher was born.

"Half of me is Streep, but the other half is Wilkinson from Lincolnshire," Streep told the mostly British audience, which gave her a warm ovation. "So I come by it, honestly, this part."

Streep's victory added to a recent trend of major awards going to actors playing British leaders. Helen Mirren won a Golden Globe, BAFTA and an Oscar for portraying Queen Elizabeth II in 2007, and Firth equaled that trifecta last year for playing Elizabeth's father, George VI, in "The King's Speech."

Octavia Spencer, one of the maids in "The Help," won the award for supporting actress, and Christopher Plummer was lauded as supporting actor for his portrayal of a widower coming out as a gay man late in life in "Beginners." Both are the odds-on favorites at the Oscars after dominating their categories throughout this awards season.

An amusing moment came when writer Peter Straughan nabbed the award for adapted screenplay for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," originally a novel by John Le Carré.

"I'd just like to thank 'The Artist' for not being adapted from a book," Straughan joked.

He then thanked his absent co-winner, his wife, Bridget O'Connor, who died of cancer in 2010 before the film was completed. "She wrote all the good bits, and I made the coffee. Bridget, I love you, I miss you and this is for you."

Although Scorsese didn't win the director's trophy, the veteran director enjoyed a good night. He was nominated in two categories — the second was for his documentary on George Harrison of the Beatles — and was presented with a BAFTA fellowship, the organization's highest accolade, given each year to an individual for outstanding and exceptional contribution to film.

The Hollywood star quotient was particularly high this year, in contrast to years past, when some American nominees skipped the trip across the Pond. Fans braved near-freezing temperatures to scream at the actors, who fluttered their way down the red carpet, the men snug in black tie but some of the women at risk of hypothermia in their shoulder- and cleavage-revealing dresses.

"This country turns out a lot of brilliant actors, and to be even recognized by this awards body is beyond my wildest dreams. And to win it — oh my God," Spencer said, fondling the bronze trophy shaped like a classical theater mask. "This little guy's gonna lay next to me on the pillow tonight."


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