The actress Thandie Newton snatched top honours at the Orange British Academy Awards last night from under the noses of honours veterans Frances McDormand and Brenda Blethyn in what proved to be a rare triumph for the British.
The 33-year-old actress, who was born in Zambia but raised in Britain, was named best supporting actress for her searing performance in the American film Crash, about fraught racial tensions in Los Angeles. It also won best original screenplay.
"I did it for very, very little money, huge support from the people making the film, but really it was very, very tight," Newton admitted at last night's ceremony, the most prestigious film honours in the UK.
Newton, a mother-of-two who originally trained to be a dancer, gave it up for acting and then did an anthropology degree at Cambridge University, said her victory was the highlight of her career so far - "and probably the highest high ever. I'm full to the brim with gratitude and respect [for the other nominees]."
She was the only Brit in a cast of Americans and played a woman who suffers sexual harassment at the hands of a racist police officer. It was her most acclaimed performance since her appearance in Jefferson in Paris a decade ago.
But the rain-soaked ceremony in Leicester Square, London, was a disappointing night for most British nominees with several hot favourites leaving empty-handed. The Constant Gardener, a story of drug company corruption in Africa, had led the field with 10 nominations, but walked away with just one award. Brokeback Mountain, the Western romance about two sheepherders in love, dominated.
The film, which is widely expected to win at the Oscars in America next month, took four awards, including best film and adapted screenplay. Its director, Ang Lee, was named best director while Jake Gyllenhaal, who starred alongside Heath Ledger, was named best supporting actor.
Gyllenhaal said the film meant even more to him for its social message than artistically. "I had a lot of people saying to me, to my surprise, thank you for making it."
Rachel Weisz, the lead in The Constant Gardener, was beaten to the best actress award by Reese Witherspoon for her barnstorming performance as the wife of Johnny Cash in the biopic Walk the Line.
And Weisz's co-star, Ralph Fiennes, was beaten to best actor by Philip Seymour Hoffman for his performance in another biopic, Capote, about the writer Truman Capote.
There was also bitter disappointment for Hollywood star George Clooney who took home no honours despite high hopes for his film Good Night, and Good Luck, about journalism in the McCarthyite era in America, which he wrote, directed and starred in. He was also nominated for his performance in Syriana.
But David Puttnam, being awarded a Bafta fellowship, paid tribute to him for his politically impassioned style of movie-making. "What you've done to this industry is remarkable," he said.
Lord Puttnam admitted he gave up producing films eight years ago because he feared the industry would no longer support the type of films he wanted to make, but this year's nominations had proved him wrong. "This group of committed, decent films which absolutely have something to say give the lie ... that there's a dichotomy between informing and entertaining."
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was named the outstanding British film. Nick Park, who has previously won Oscars in animation categories, said: "I was just so thrilled to be nominated alongside all the proper films tonight."
Pride and Prejudice, whose star Keira Knightley was snubbed by the 6,000 members of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts who vote for the awards, took home one honour, for achievement in a first movie for its director Joe Wright. He lamented Knightley's absence but wished her well for the Oscars, where she has been nominated.
James McAvoy, the star of television's Shameless and seen recently in the Chronicles of Narnia, won the new rising star award sponsored by Orange against competition from Chiwetel Ejifor, Gael Garcia Bernal, Rachel McAdams and Michelle Williams.
Best film: Brokeback Mountain
Best British film: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit
Best direction: Brokeback Mountain
Best original screenplay: Crash
Best adapted screenplay: Brokeback Mountain
Best film not in English: De Battre Mon Coeur S'est Arrete (Beat My Heart Skipped)
Best actress: Reese Witherspoon
Best actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Best supporting actor: Jake Gyllenhaal
Best supporting actress: Thandie Newton
Best music: John Williams for Memoirs of a Geisha
Best production design: Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire
Best editing: The Constant Gardener
Best short film: Antonio's Breakfast
Best effects: King Kong
Best cinematography: Memoirs of a Geisha
Best sound: Walk the Line
The Academy fellowship: David Puttnam
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