London The Pianist, Roman Polanski's searing film about a young Polish musician's fight for survival during the Holocaust, was the surprise winner of best film Sunday at the Orange British Academy Film Awards.
Veteran filmmaker Polanski who will be 70 this summer also took best director.
And in an evening in which the wealth was generously, and often unexpectedly, spread around, Oscar front-runners Nicole Kidman and Daniel Day-Lewis won the top acting prizes for their performances in The Hours and Gangs of New York, respectively.
Two other Oscar hopefuls took the Baftas in the supporting actor and actress categories: Christopher Walken as a con man's defeated father in Catch Me If You Can and an exuberant Catherine Zeta-Jones as the high-kicking murderess, Velma Kelly, in Chicago.
A popular choice among the audience at the black-tie ceremony at the Odeon Leicester Square cinema, Zeta-Jones shifted from her mid-Atlantic accent into a broad Welsh brogue to thank her parents in Swansea, South Wales, where she is from.
But it was the Paris-born Polish director, Polanski, who was a mighty presence at the ceremony even in his absence. Accepting the best director prize on Polanski's behalf, the film's American star, Adrien Brody, honoured "a brilliant filmmaker ... [who] over time has had an enormous amount of loss in his life." [A child of the Holocaust, Polanski later suffered the murder of first wife Sharon Tate in 1969.]
"I appreciate you, Roman," said Brody, "and you deserve this."
An awareness of the world at large was sounded by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, whose latest film, Talk To Her, took two prizes: best film not in the English language and best original screenplay.
Remarking from the stage that "cinema and war are two very different things," Almodovar took the opportunity of the first of his two trophies to note that, in movies, "even darkness is made of light," as opposed to the contemporary "army of darkness" at the moment that, he said, is intent on war.
In an evening in which no one film dominated proceedings, The Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers took the most awards, namely three for visual effects, costumes, and Orange Film of the Year, given by the cellphone company Orange to the most popular movie in Britain during 2002. Orange is the sponsor of the British Academy Awards.
The supposed big guns, Chicago and Gangs of New York, with 24 nominations between them, took only three prizes, while The Hours, with 11 nominations, won only for Kidman's portrayal of Virginia Woolf and for composer Philip Glass's surging score.
The critically acclaimed Adaptation which was screened for Bafta members but has yet to open commercially in Britain beat The Hours' David Hare to take best adapted screenplay for brothers Charlie and Donald Kaufman. Since Donald Kaufman is an invention of the writer and does not exist, and Charlie Kaufman was unable to attend, the prize was accepted by the film's co-star, Meryl Streep.
"How thrilling not to have it be about me," joked Streep, who went on to read aloud a fax from Kaufman that constituted the night's funniest comic turn. "This man is out of his mind," laughed Streep, as she made her way through Kaufman's thanks.
Road To Perdition, whose English director, Sam Mendes, was not nominated by Bafta, nonetheless won two awards for production design and cinematography. The latter award was accepted posthumously by Daniel Craig, the movie's co-star. Craig paid tribute to the memory of winner Conrad L. Hall, the cameraman. Hall died Jan. 4 of complications from bladder cancer, age 76.
An indication that no one movie would dominate proceedings came early on with the award for best editing to Daniel Rezende for the Brazilian film, City of God.
"It's unimaginable, a Brazilian film getting this technical award," said an astonished Rezende from the stage before urging the black-tie crowd to "try to see more Brazilian films."
And 29-year-old Anglo-Asian filmmaker Asif Kapadia had quite a night, as well. For his debut film The Warrior, which was written in Hindi, Kapadia won the Alexander Korda Award for British Film of the Year and the Carl Foreman Award for special achievement by a first-time director, screenwriter, or producer.
In contrast to the American Academy Awards, which take place in exactly one month, the Baftas are a relatively speedy occasion free of the musical numbers and celebrity banter that tend to mark the Oscars.
Returning as host was Stephen Fry, the British actor, writer, and resident wit whose love of language was much in evidence. At the evening's start, he referred to London's West End as the "surging aorta" of the capital. Later, he urged the audience to "ululate wildly" for presenter Renee Zellweger.
With the Baftas preceding the March 23 Oscars, the British event has become a more important part of the annual film awards season. And a more international one, too, with fewer small British movies being honoured than in years past.