The harrowing drama 12 Years a Slave won the Best Film award at Britain’s top movie honors on Sunday, cementing its status as a favorite for the Oscars next month, but it was the space thriller Gravity that claimed the biggest trophy haul.
12 Years a Slave, by British director Steve McQueen with Hollywood’s Brad Pitt as a producer, had been tipped as the night’s major winner and also won Best Actor for Chiwetel Ejiofor as a man tricked and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War US.
However, Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, took home six prizes from its 11 nominations, including the Best Director prize for Mexican Alfonso Cuaron and the awards for Cinematography and Outstanding British Film.
McQueen, 44, said it was horrifying that 21 million people were still living in slavery around the world.
“I hope that, 150 years from now, our ambivalence will not allow another filmmaker to make this film,” he told the ceremony at London’s Royal Opera House.
McQueen, a video artist as well as a director, previously won kudos for his 2008 film Hunger, about an IRA hunger strike in Northern Ireland and won Britain’s top visual art award, the Turner Prize, in 1999 for a video based on a Buster Keaton film.
Pitt, whose partner Angelina Jolie accompanied him to the ceremony, dressed like him in a tuxedo, said he was proud of the film, based on the real story of Solomon Northup.
The Hollywood power couple were among a list of stars who descended on London for the British Academy of Film and Television Art awards (BAFTAs), which come two weeks before the Academy Awards and are widely seen as indicators of Oscar success.
On the red carpet ahead of the ceremony, the most-watched film awards outside the US, stars mingled with fans.
Britain’s Prince William arrived last, chatting to the crowd gathered outside the theater on a cold, dry evening before heading inside to present an Academy Fellowship for outstanding contribution to film to the British actress Helen Mirren.
Mirren, 68, won an Oscar for playing the prince’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth in the 2006 film The Queen.
Bookmakers had expected 12 Years a Slave to be the big winner ahead of Gravity, American Hustle, the Somali-pirate thriller Captain Phillips and the British drama Philomena.
The Best Actress award went to Australian Cate Blanchett for playing a riches-to-rags socialite in Woody Allen’s tragicomedy Blue Jasmine. She beat Judi Dench from Philomena, Amy Adams from American Hustle, Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks and Bullock in Gravity.
Barkhad Abdi was named Best Supporting Actor for his role in Captain Phillips and the award for Best Supporting Actress went to Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle.
The Italian movie The Great Beauty won the award for Film Not in the English Language, while the documentary prize went to The Act of Killing by Joshua Oppenheimer.