‘12 Years a Slave’ named best film at UK awards

LONDON — The force of “Gravity” was strong at the British Academy Film Awards on Sunday — but it was the unflinching “12 Years a Slave” that took the top prize.

Shot in the New Orleans area, antebellum drama “12 Years a Slave” claimed two major awards Sunday at the BAFTAs, as the British awards are called. “Slave” received the best film award and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the London-born actor who plays the movie’s principal role, was named best leading actor.

Also at Sunday’s BAFTA ceremony, held at London’s Royal Opera House, Prince William presented British actress and former New Orleans resident Helen Mirren with the event’s highest honor, the British Academy fellowship.

Sometimes New Orleans residents Angelina Jolie and her partner, “12 Years a Slave” co-producer Brad Pitt, were among the attendees.

Preceding Hollywood’s Academy Awards by two weeks, the BAFTA results may be an indicator of Oscar winners. The Oscars will be awarded March 2.

Ejiofor, holding his BAFTA trophy, told “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen: “This is yours. I’m going to keep it — that’s the kind of guy I am — but it’s yours.”

Holding the trophy, the British actor told McQueen: “This is yours. I’m going to keep it — that’s the kind of guy I am — but it’s yours.”

McQueen reminded the ceremony’s black-tie audience that, in some parts of the world, slavery is not a thing of the past.

“There are 21 million people in slavery as we sit here,” he said. “I just hope, 150 years from now, our ambivalence will not allow another filmmaker to make this film.”

Lost-in-space thriller “Gravity” — made in Britain by a Mexican director and starring American actors — won six prizes, including best director, for Alfonso Cuaron.

The 3-D special effects extravaganza also won the awards for sound, music, cinematography and visual effects, and despite its mixed parentage, was named best British film.

Cuaron paid tribute to star Sandra Bullock, who is alone onscreen for much of the film.

“Without her performance, everything would have been nonsense,” he said.

Con-artist caper “American Hustle” charmed its way to three prizes, including original screenplay and supporting actress for Jennifer Lawrence.

Its spectacular ’70s stylings took the hair and makeup award.

The best-actress prize went to Cate Blanchett for her turn as a socialite on the slide in “Blue Jasmine.”

She dedicated the award to her friend and fellow actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died this month, calling him “a monumental presence who is now sadly an absence.”

The supporting actor prize went to Barkhad Abdi, who made an explosive screen debut as a Somali pirate in “Captain Phillips.”

The 28-year-old called his experience of going from obscurity in Minnesota to stardom — complete with an Oscar nomination — “surreal.”

Praising the other Somali actors who played his fellow pirates, he said: “We came from nothing, and we got this.”

In the past few years, the British prizes have helped underdog films, including “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist,” gain Oscars momentum.

The awards have become an essential stop for many Hollywood stars before the Academy Awards.

The temperature in London was hardly Hollywood, but Britain’s fickle weather relented ahead of Sunday’s ceremony. The sun shone as nominees, including “Wolf of Wall Street” star Leonardo DiCaprio and “12 Years a Slave” performer Lupita Nyong’o — striking in a green Dior gown — walked the red carpet outside London’s Royal Opera House.

Best-actress nominee Amy Adams wore a black dress by Victoria Beckham, and revealed the inspirations for her “American Hustle” character’s faux-British accent: “Marianne Faithfull and Julie Christie.”

There was royalty of the Hollywood kind — Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, wearing matching tuxedos. And there was British royalty, too, in the form of Prince William, honorary president of the film academy.

The documentary prize went to “The Act of Killing,” a powerful look at hundreds of thousands of killings carried out in 1960s Indonesia in the name of fighting communism by death squads that went unpunished.

Director Joshua Oppenheimer dedicated the award to his Indonesian co-director and crew, all of whom had to work anonymously because of the threat to their lives in tackling the taboo topic.

Will Poulter (“Son of Rambow,” “We’re the Millers”), a 21-year-old actor, won the rising star award, decided by public vote.

Director Peter Greenaway received an award for outstanding contribution to British cinema for a body of unsettling, comic and erotic films that includes “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” and “The Draughtsman’s Contract.”

Greenaway said he hoped the trophy would encourage those, like him, “who believe that cinema has to be continually reinvented.”

Helen Mirren’s Fellowship Award honors a career that has ranged from a hard-nosed detective in the TV series “Prime Suspect” to Queen Elizabeth II in “The Queen.”

Mirren, 68, said she was “almost speechless” at receiving the honor, whose previous recipients include Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Elizabeth Taylor and Judi Dench.

“It’s been an amazing journey up to now,” she said.

She was given the trophy by Prince William — who said he should probably call her “granny.” Mirren won an Oscar for playing his grandmother, Britain’s monarch, in “The Queen.”

“I wanted to have a hanky in my bag and take it out and spit on it and clean his face,” Mirren joked.

Advocate movie writer John Wirt contributed to this story.