Emma Thompson won the Best Actress prize for her performances in Howard's End and Peter's Friends at the Evening Standard British film awards dinner at the Savoy Hotel. This follows a Hollywood Golden Globe award for Ms Thompson and she is a favourite to complete a hat trick with an Oscar for her Howard's End performance.
Recent British Oscar winners have included Jessica Tandy (best actress, Driving Miss Daisy); Daniel Day-Lewis (best actor, My Left Foot); Jeremy Irons for his portrayal of Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune; and Sir Anthony Hopkins for his role as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.
Kenneth Branagh led a flurry of on- and off-screen chums to receive the Peter Sellers Award for Comedy for Peter's Friends, in which he and Ms Thompson starred, and which he directed.
The Best Actor award went to Daniel Day-Lewis for The Last of the Mohicans; while Howard's End was adjudged the Best Film. The award was presented to its producer, James Ivory, by Sir Peter Ustinov. The Best Screenplay prize went to Terence Davies for The Long Day Closes; the Most Promising Newcomer to Peter Chelsom, director of Hear My Song, which was based on the life of the Irish tenor Josef Locke; and Best Technical Achievement to Sue Gibson, director of photography for Secret Friends and Hear My Song.
The glitter of last night's occasion, which was hosted by the television presenter Clive Anderson, could not disguise the lack of quantity of British films compared with imports from America. Once again, the panel of judges had only a small number of films from which to select the award-winners.
Even at a time when cinema audiences are showing a surprising increase, the best British film, Howard's End, was the only homegrown movie last year to appear on the list of the 50 most popular films in Britain. It was 35th and took pounds 2.5m at the box office. The list was headed by Basic Instinct, which took pounds 15.5m.
Sir John Gielgud was last night presented with the newly created Shakespeare Globe Trust Award in tribute to his 70-year acting career.