"The Hurt Locker," a gripping ensemble drama about a bomb-disposal unit in Iraq, swept the British film awards Sunday, winning best picture and best director and beating out "Avatar" in nearly all categories in which both movies went head to head.
It was a triumphant evening for "Hurt Locker" director Kathryn Bigelow, whose low-budget war drama nabbed six of the eight awards for which it was nominated, and a disappointment for her ex-husband, James Cameron, who looked on stoically as his 3-D extravaganza "Avatar," which earned him those same top prizes recently at the Golden Globes, managed wins only for visual effects and production design.
Bigelow, the first woman to win for best director here, dedicated her award to "never abandoning the need to find a resolution for peace." At a news conference afterward, she dismissed any talk of rivalry with Cameron, saying it was "a real honor" to be nominated in his company.
"The Hurt Locker" writer Mark Boal also won for original screenplay. The film is nominated for nine Oscars, including best picture, director, actor and screenplay.
Despite the victories for Hollywood, it was also a night for Britain to honor its own here inside the Royal Opera House, with victories in the leading actor and actress categories for two homegrown talents who are considered longer shots at the Oscars next month.
With Britain's Prince William applauding approvingly in the audience, Colin Firth ("A Single Man") beat out Jeff Bridges, the heavy Oscar favorite for "Crazy Heart," and Carey Mulligan took home the award for her role as a young ingénue in the British film "An Education," a breakout performance that has had critics on both sides of the Atlantic raving.
Firth drew laughs by thanking "the fridge guy" in his acceptance speech, that being the refrigerator repairman who knocked on his door just as he was about to shoot an e-mail to director Tom Ford declining the role of a bereaved gay professor.
"All I know is, don't ever press 'send' until you have had your fridge repaired," Firth said.
He also thanked Ford, better known as a fashion designer, for making him feel "a little more worldly, better informed, better groomed, more fragrant and more nominated than one has ever been before."
Mo'Nique won as expected for supporting actress in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," and Christoph Waltz for supporting actor in " Inglourious Basterds." Both actors have dominated this awards season in their categories.
Whether the acting awards will presage what happens at the Oscars on March 7 is hard to say. Although Meryl Streep was nominated here as lead actress, Sandra Bullock was not, since "The Blind Side" has yet to open in Britain.
Critics in Britain started tagging Mulligan as Oscar-worthy from the moment "An Education" was released. She refused to get her hopes up by preparing an acceptance speech, however, and insisted after her win that she had no expectations for the Oscars either. "That I'm really not going to prepare for. That genuinely is a foregone conclusion," Mulligan told reporters. "I'm just going to enjoy that."
Other winners for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards Sunday included: "Up in the Air" for adapted screenplay; "Up" for best animated film and score; "Fish Tank" for best British film; "Young Victoria" for both costume design and hair and makeup; "A Prophet" for top film not in English; and Duncan Jones for outstanding debut for the film "Moon."
As at the Oscars, raucous fans who braved the wet and chilly English weather jostled near the red carpet, screaming like a colony of gulls as celebrities went by and begging for autographs while television presenters gushed over fashion choices, however questionable.
The decibel level hit almost painful heights when "Twilight" stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart appeared. Stewart went on to win the night's rising star award, the only category to be decided by public vote.
The loudest red-carpet reception, though, went not to movie-star royalty but to the real kind: Prince William, who helped present a special award to Vanessa Redgrave.
The ceremony was hosted by comedian Jonathan Ross; one of his better zingers described "Avatar" as "such an unstoppable juggernaut that I assumed it was made by Toyota."