'THE Pianist," fugitive director Roman Polanski's Holocaust drama, sounded a sour note for Oscar frontrunner "Chicago" yesterday, scoring an upset win for best picture at the British academy awards.
Polanski -- a Polish-born French citizen who fled the United States in 1978 to avoid sentencing after pleading guilty to illegal sex with a minor -- also received the prize for best director.
Ireland's Daniel Day-Lewis copped the best actor award for playing a crime boss in the historical epic "Gangs of New York," while Aussie Nicole Kidman took the best actress trophy for portraying author Virginia Woolf in "The Hours."
Best supporting actress honors went to Welsh-born Catherine Zeta-Jones, as a singing and dancing murderess in the musical "Chicago," while Queens-born Christopher Walken was named best supporting actor for playing Leonardo DiCaprio's dad in the biopic "Catch Me If You Can."
Coming a day after "The Pianist" dominated France's Cesar awards with prizes for best film, Polanski and star Adrien Brody, the movie's surprise triumph positions it as a serious dark-horse challenger to "Chicago," which has been considered a prohibitive Oscar favorite since December.
The BAFTA awards, traditionally held after the Oscars, were moved up two years ago to position them in the parade of pre-Oscar awards -- this year, the nominees for best picture and best actor were identical for both contests.
Hollywood still reigns supreme even for the British film industry -- the only British picture nominated for best film was "The Hours" -- two-thirds of which is set in New York and Los Angeles. But the British ceremony has come to rival the Oscars for glitz.
Zeta-Jones turned up very pregnant and dazzling in a black dress with a plunging neckline, accessorized by a ruby-studded necklace -- and husband Michael Douglas.
Would the awards excitement send her into early labor?
"Well you never know, will they have to wheel me on a gurney tonight, or at the Oscars?"
When she accepted her award from director Martin Scorsese, she said: "Oh, my gosh! I'm very hormonal so please forgive anything I say, and if I cry, Marty please take me off the stage!"
- With Post wire services