Britain’s night in a million as Slumdog sweeps Oscars

It almost went straight to DVD, but Danny Boyle’s rags-to-riches tale of the Mumbai slums ended triumphantly with eight Oscars. And finally, Kate Winslet won too

It was a dreamy ending for a fairy tale of a movie. Slumdog Millionaire, the story of a Mumbai orphan who emerges from the slums to hit the big-time on a game show, completed a journey into cinematic history on Sunday, spearheading a remarkable night for Britain at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles.

A haul of eight Oscars from 10 nominations made it the most successful British film at Hollywood’s biggest night since Gandhi in 1982. There were nods for the main prize, best picture, and best director for its helmsman Danny Boyle, elevating him to the top table of film-makers.

The film’s feel-good storyline built on fantastic coincidence and infectious optimism – combined with a strong social message – has apparently captured the spirit of the age across several continents.

But while Slumdog was undoubtedly British – with Boyle, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy and producer Christian Colson – it has a predominantly Indian cast, and one third of it is in Hindi. Hence it can claim to be the first foreign-language film to take best picture. And if it hadn’t been for an injection of distribution cash from Americans, it would have gone straight to DVD.

Nowhere was the wave of goodwill more keenly felt than at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, where Boyle bounded to the stage when his victory was confirmed, before jumping up and down excitedly on the spot.

“My kids are too old to remember this now, but when they were much younger, I swore to them that if this miracle ever happened that I would receive it in the spirit of Tigger from Winnie the Pooh,” he explained. “So that’s what I’m going to do. I don’t know what this all looks like on television, everybody, but here in the room, where I’m standing, it feels bloody wonderful.”

Boyle stepped on to the world’s biggest red carpet with young stars from the film, who had been flown over from Mumbai. Later, he joked he was glad he didn’t have to put the chaotic menagerie of children to bed.

The night was also a triumph for India. A R Rahman won two Oscars, for best original song and best original score.

Elsewhere at the awards, Kate Winslet was named best actress for her role as the Nazi war criminal Hannah Schmitz in the Holocaust drama The Reader.

“I’d be lying if I said I haven’t made a version of this speech before, when I was eight years old and staring into the bathroom mirror,” joked Winslet, who had previously been unsuccessfully nominated for five Oscars. “This [pointing to her microphone] would have been a shampoo bottle. Well, it’s not a shampoo bottle now! I feel very fortunate.”

Clutching her trophy, the 33-year-old actress was asked backstage what she thought of homegrown criticism of her previous teary performances. “I just feel sad if it’s the case my own country can’t feel joyful for the successes of their own kind,” she said. “It just seems sad to me.”

The night’s other big winner was Milk, the story of Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay elected politician. It won best screenplay for Lance Dustin Black, and best actor for Sean Penn, who gave a tub-thumping speech in which he joyfully called the Academy “commie, homo-loving sons of guns” before criticising California’s ban on gay marriage.

Noting an anti-gay demonstration had been organised by religious protesters outside the theatre beforehand, Penn dedicated his award to “those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in”.

“It’s a good time for those who voted for the ban on gay marriage to look into their minds and anticipate their great shame in the eyes of their grandchildren. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.”

The late Heath Ledger won the best supporting actor for his role in The Dark Knight. In an emotional scene, his mother, father and sister accepted the award on behalf of his daughter, Matilda.

The documentary-makers James Marsh and Simon Chinn completed a dream night for Britain, when they won best documentary feature award for Man on a Wire, the story of Philippe Petit, a tightrope walker who illegally crossed between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York in 1974. The victory meant the UK won 10 of the 24 awards handed out. In one of the “moments” of the evening, Petit performed a trick on the winner’s podium, making a coin disappear before balancing Marsh and Chinn’s trophy on his forehead.

Academy Awards: Winners

* Best Picture Slumdog Millionaire

*Actor Sean Penn, Milk

*Actress Kate Winslet, The Reader

*Supporting Actor Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

*Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

*Director Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

*Foreign Film Departures, Japan

*Adapted Screenplay Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire

*Original Screenplay Dustin Lance Black, Milk

*Animated Feature Film Wall-E (below)

*Art Direction The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.

*Cinematography Slumdog Millionaire

*Sound Mixing Slumdog Millionaire

*Sound Editing The Dark Knight

*Original Score Slumdog Millionaire, AR Rahman

*Original Song “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire, AR Rahman and Gulzar.

*Costume The Duchess

*Documentary Feature Man on Wire

*Documentary (short subject) Smile Pinki

*Film Editing Slumdog Millionaire

*Make-up The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

*Animated Short Film La Maison En Petits Cubes

*Live Action Short Film Spielzeugland (Toyland).

*Visual Effects The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

Academy Award winners previously announced this season:

*Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (Oscar statuette) Jerry Lewis

*Gordon E Sawyer Award (Oscar statuette) Pixar Animation co-founder Ed Catmull