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Slumdog makes it to top dog

Finally, Slumdog Millionaire got its fairytale ending. The rags-to-riches love story, about an orphan from the slums of Mumbai who hits the big-time on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? completed a remarkable journey to global acclaim when it spearheaded a triumphant British invasion of last night's Academy Awards in Los Angeles.

The low-budget epic, which was thrust from obscurity to complete an extraordinary clean sweep of the film industry's award season, won eight of the ten prizes it was nominated for at Sunday's 81st Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for its creator, Danny Boyle.

It marked a fitting tribute to the infectiously-vibrant film, which mixes its feel-good storyline with a powerful social message that has captured the spirit of the age across several continents, making international stars of several members of its previously unknown cast.

Slumdog's victory was applauded from the streets of Mumbai to the Hollywood hills, but nowhere was the wave of goodwill more keenly felt than in the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, where Boyle bounded to the stage 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."

The success felt like a family affair. Boyle turned up at the event with several of the young stars from the film, who had been flown over from Mumbai for the occasion. The youngsters were a huge hit with both the enormous crowds and the hundreds of stars of stage and screen who were in the audience.

"We were so worried about bringing them over," said Simon Beaufoy, who won the Oscar for Best Screenwriter. "It seemed incredibly inappropriate to bring them from where they lived to this lavish ceremony. But actually, they're not thinking about it. We're all worried but they're running around having a laugh."

Later, Boyle joked that he was glad he didn't have to put the chaotic menagerie of children to bed: while he was discussing the victory at a backstage press conference, they had apparently adjourned en masse to the Governor's Ball.

The story of Slumdog Mililonaire, which was made on a budget of just £7 million, but has now generated almost $100m at the US box office alone, is all the more remarkable since just six months ago it looked destined to miss out on a cinema release.

Its distributor, Warner, decided to shut down its independent film arm, seemingly condemning the film, made in 2006, to a straight-to-DVD release. However the film was eventually picked up by Fox Searchlight, and quickly became the subject of heated buzz on the film festival circuit.

"When we started out, we had no stars, we had no power or muscle, we didn't have enough money really to do what we wanted to do," said producer Christian Colson, accepting the Best Picture Award. "But what we had was a script that inspired mad love in everyone who read it. ... Most of all, we had passion and we had belief and our film shows that if you have those two things, truly anything is possible."

It was also a triumph for India, whose A. R. Rahman won two Oscars, for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. In the slums of Mumbai, where much of Slunmdog was set, its victory was watched by jubliant crowds clustered around TV sets in scenes reminiscent of the film's colourful ending.

Elsewhere at the event, which began in the early hours of this morning, London time, Kate Winslet justified strong favouritism when she 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 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 shampoo bottle now! I feel very fortunate to have made it all way there to here."

The speech was touchingly well constructed compared to Winslet's tearful previous appearances on the winner's podium this awards season. Clutching her trophy, the 33-year-old actress was asked backstage what she thought of homegrown criticism of her previous performances.

"I really don't care, quite honestly, and I just feel sad if it's the case my own country can't feel joyful for the successes of their own kind," she replied. "I 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 delivered a tub-thumping speech in which he joyfully described the Academy as "commie, homo-loving sons of guns" before criticising California's ban on gay marriage.

Noting that an anti-gay demonstration had been orgainsed by religious protesters outside the Kodak Theatre before the event, Penn dedicated his award to: "those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight".

"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 eyes of their grandchildren. We've got to have equal rights for everyone."

Heath Ledger, who died over a year ago, justified heavy odds-on favouritism to win the prize for Best Supporting Actor with The Dark Knight. In an emotional scene, his mother, father and sister appeared onstage to accept the award on behalf of his daughter, Matilda.

"This award tonight would have humbly validated Heath's quiet determination to be accepted by you all here, his peers, within an industry he loved," said his father, Kim.

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 that the UK won ten of the 24 awards handed out. In one of the "moments" of the evening, Petit performed a magic trick on the winner's podium, making a coin disappear before balancing Marsh and Chinn's trophy on his forehead.

It was a typically lively highlight to a vibrant and seemingly successful ceremony that had been given a dramatic facelift in a bid to reverse years of declining audiences.

The re-vamped occasion saw host Hugh Jackman perform a series of song-and-dance routines. He repeatedly made light of some of the criticisms of the event, which once again overlooked major studio films in favour of smaller independent titles. Pictures like Batman and Benjamin Button were restricted to victory in the technical categories.

Awards were presented by teams of previous winners, and (although several major stars pulled out) appeared to excite the audience. In a bid to capture TV viewers early on, one of the major gongs, Best Supporting Actress – won by Penelope Cruz for Vicki Christina Barcelona – was handed out at the start of the evening.