A tale of a man sold into slavery has become the big winner at Britain’s top film awards, the BAFTAs.
12 Years A Slave, adapted from Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir, took the best film prize on Sunday at London’s Royal Opera House.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, a British actor who portrayed a free black man in the film as he is kidnapped and enslaved in the US, walked away with the best actor prize.
Steve McQueen, the director, used his acceptance speech to thank his “one and only mother” and to highlight the issue of modern-day slavery.
“There are 21 million people in slavery as we sit here,” McQueen said. “I just hope 150 years from now our ambivalence will not allow another film-maker to make this film”.
The best director award escaped McQueen and went to Mexican Alfonso Cuaron instead for space sci-fi thriller Gravity.
Meanwhile, Philomena, the tale of an Irishwoman searching for a son taken by nuns, won in the adapted screenplay category. Leading actor Steve Coogan praised the “real Philomena Lee”, revealing that she was in the audience.
“Her story has been told and her story finished in the Vatican,” he said. “She has been heard but there are 60,000 women who are yet to trace their children”.
Australian Cate Blanchett paid tribute to late colleague Philip Seymour Hoffman, calling him “a continual profound touchstone” as she claimed her best actress award for her part in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.
“Phil, buddy, this is for you … ,” she said. “I hope you’re proud.”
Jennifer Lawrence, a rising star, won the best supporting actress award for her role in American Hustle, while Barkhad Abdi claimed the best supporting actor prize for his portrayal of a Somali pirate in Captain Phillips.
Although many of the stars turned out for the chance of winning an award, Oprah Winfrey, who was nominated for her role in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, decided she was going to just enjoy herself at her first outing at the BAFTAs.
She joked: “First time … maybe the last time, so let’s have a good time. That’s my philosophy.”
Helen Mirren was taking a star turn at the end of the award show when she received the honour of receiving the Fellowship from BAFTA for outstanding contribution to British film by none other than Britain’s Prince William.
When asked how she felt, Mirren said: “I feel amazing. I never imagined that my life would bring me to this point. I’ve done my work and I’ve done it the best I can. I’ve hoped for the best.”
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards are the highlight of the British film calendar and a useful guide to which way the Academy Awards might go on March 2.