Neeson wins best actor for `Michael Collins'

The star of Michael Collins, the controversial film about the murdered IRA hero, took one of the top prizes at a film-awards ceremony last night.

Liam Neeson was voted best actor by the jury of film critics at the Evening Standard Films Award.

The award of best actress went to Kate Winslet, enjoying remarkable success for an actress who is still only 21.

The awards celebrate British film-making, and this year there was considerable diversity to celebrate, with award-winners including films of Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, tales of underclass junkies and an IRA leader, and a star of the Carry On movies.

Liam Neeson received his award from the American actress Jessica Lange. The Neil Jordan film, a joint UK/US production, opened last year to controversy, with claims that it had glamourised the life and career of Collins.

The award for best film went to Richard III, which featured Sir Ian McKellen's interpretation of the king as a neo-fascist. Tony Burrough, production designer on the film, won best technical achievement award.

The rise to stardom of Kate Winslet, unknown 18 months ago, continues.

Winslet, who was nominated for an Oscar last year for Sense and Sensibility, won best actress last night for her performances in both Sense and Sensibility and Jude, the latter an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Jude The Obscure.

She is at present staring as Ophelia in the Kenneth Branagh film of Hamlet.

Emma Thompson, who adapted Sense and Sensibility (as well as acting in it), shared best screenplay award with John Hodge for Trainspotting, the film of Irvine Welsh's story of Edinburgh low life.

Mark Herman, writer and director of Brassed Off, a film about a colliery band at a pit earmarked for closure, won the Peter Sellers comedy award, and Emily Watson was judged best newcomer for Breaking The Waves, an epic love story between a Calvinist girl from a small Scottish community and an oil-rig worker.

The jury of British film critics somewhat perversely ignored one of the great British successes of the year, Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lives, the poignant and comic tale of an adopted black girl who traces her natural mother and finds she is white. This film won top prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year. It is not the first time that the judges for this award have made an odd decision.

A few years ago they ignored Neil Jordan's The Crying Game, which won an Oscar.

But one of the biggest cheers of the night was for Leslie Phillips, when the veteran actor and a star of the Carry On films received the special achievement award. It was presented to him by Joan Plowright, the actress and widow of Lord Olivier.

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