"Queen of the World" at the BAFTAs

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There was a strong sense of déjà vu last night, as the familiar cast of characters picked up yet another set of trophies at the Orange British Academy Film Awards. Helen Mirren for best Actress in a Leading Role, Forest Whitaker for best Actor in a Leading Role and Jennifer Hudson for best Actress in a Supporting Role — you can almost hear their shelves groaning under the weight of industry recognition. And with just two weeks to go until the Oscars, nobody but a fool would bet against these three taking home the little golden guy.

Ever since the BAFTAs (which stands for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts) moved from its post-Oscars afterthought slot to a few weeks before the Academy Awards in 2001, it's been pushing itself as an international awards ceremony. This year, though, the kudos came with a thick British accent. Screenwriters Peter Morgan and Jeremy Brock won best Adapted Screenplay for The Last King of Scotland, which was also voted Outstanding British Film of the Year. United 93's Paul Greengrass earned the best director plaudit, confirming his place as Martin Scorsese's strongest rival for the Oscar. And The Queen picked up the prize for Best Film. Wearing his lucky red sneakers, director Stephen Frears shuffled onto the stage, held up his BAFTA mask and mumbled "Queen of the world — sorry, it was a dare."

Any other year and the BAFTAs would have been accused of being too parochial. But considering the pile of critics' awards that British actors and directors have already gathered, the surprise isn't that so many of them won awards, but that so few of them did. British academy voters snubbed three of their own to give the best supporting actor prize to Little Miss Sunshine's Alan Arkin. The latest James Bond film, Casino Royale, went in with nine nominations and came out with just one prize for best sound. And the Orange Rising Star Award, a prize for up-and-coming actors voted on by the public, bypassed four Brits to go to Eva Green — who's French.

As part of its 60th anniversary celebration, the BAFTA ceremony moved houses, from the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square, with its leopard-print seats and tiny stage, to the far lusher Royal Opera House. For the first time ever, part of the red carpet was covered in case of rain — of course, there wasn't any. But even with all the glitz, the ceremony itself lacked luster. There was a higher than average number of no-shows (including the best supporting actor and actress), and after a season full of acceptance speeches, some of the winners looked more exhausted than excited. Even so, the prize for the most touching thank-yous goes to the night's reigning king and queen. Whitaker's voice broke as he dedicated his award to his grandmother, "who went to the realm of my ancestors two days ago." And Mirren made a tearful tribute to actor Ian Richardson, who had died a few days earlier: "When I started out as an actress, I had the good fortune to work with an actor on my first job who was so generous he became a mentor and a supporter. He believed in me and therefore I believed in myself. It's Ian Richardson. This is for Ian. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him." Before the "look at me!" extravaganza that is the Oscars, it's nice to be reminded that, sometimes, it's the quiet moments that count.