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BAFTA Winners: Helen Mirren

Perhaps there's something I'm missing here, but the Orange British Academy of Film and Television Arts has decided that Kevin Macdonald's The Last King of Scotland is the outstanding British film of 2006, coming out ahead of United 93, Notes on a Scandal, Casino Royale, and Stephen Frears' The Queen. Yet, that very same Orange Academy has picked The Queen as the best film of the year, defeating Little Miss Sunshine, Babel, The Departed, and … The Last King of Scotland. Go figure.

There were few surprises at the 2007 Bafta ceremony held at London's Royal Opera House this evening, unless one considers a Helen Mirren victory in Britain a surprise. In her home country, Mirren has thus far trailed Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada, at the London Film Critics' Awards*), Kate Dickie (Red Road, at the British Independent Film Awards), and Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal, at the 2007 Evening Standard Film Awards).

Even so, just like at the upcoming Hollywood Academy Awards, Helen Mirren was the odds-on favorite to win the best actress Bafta – so much so, that bookies had stopped taking bets on her. “There's no chance of me winning this evening,” Judi Dench said before the ceremony. “I'm just here for the show. I'm a betting woman, so I'll put money on Helen.” (Apparently, one lone, brave bookie was still taking bets that evening.)

“It's pretty spectacular … I haven't been to the Bafta film awards much because I'm not usually invited,” Mirren remarked. “I've had TV Baftas but I think it's the first time I've been nominated for a film Bafta so it's fantastic to be here.” (Earlier this year, at the 2007 SAG Award ceremony in Los Angeles, Mirren had berated the British Academy for failing to nominate her TV special Elizabeth I.)

In her acceptance speech, Mirren dedicated her trophy to “her mentor” Ian Richardson, who died last week.

Ivana Baquero in Pan's Labyrinth
Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones in Pan's Labyrinth

Among the other top Bafta winners were best actor Forest Whitaker (who dedicated his award to his recently deceased grandmother) for his performance as deranged Uganda leader Idi Amin Dada (who'd have been right at home in today's world, where some sort of mental illness is a prerequisite for leadership positions); best director Paul Greengrass for United 93, about one of the four hijacked planes on Sept. 11, 2001; and best foreign-language film Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro's Mexican-Spanish dark fantasy about a young girl (Ivana Baquero) leading two lives – one above ground, in the Fascist Spain of the 1940s; the other underground, in a fantasy world of satyrs, monsters, and melting giant frogs.

Red Road director Andrea Arnold, upon accepting the Carl Foreman Award for a first-time British filmmaker, expressed her hope that “there is some money that comes with this award, which is great as my boiler's packed up.”

Veteran film editor Anne V. Coates, 81, whose illustrious career spans more than half a century, from Noel Langley's version of The Pickwick Papers in 1952 to the Jennifer Garner 2007 vehicle Catch and Release, received the Academy Fellowship, the British Film Academy's top honor. Among Coates' other credits are the Alec Guinness comedy The Horse's Mouth (1958), Ronald Neame's military drama Tunes of Glory (1960), David Lean's Academy Award-winning epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Sidney Lumet's Murder on the Orient Express (1974), David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980), Richard Attenborough's Chaplin (1992), and the Julia Roberts vehicle Erin Brockovich (2000).

Jennifer Hudson, Beyoncé Knowles in Dreamgirls
Jennifer Hudson, Beyoncé Knowles in Dreamgirls

In-between host Jonathan Ross' jokes about Mel Gibson (Ross remarked that several nominees looked “tenser than Mel Gibson in a synagogue”) and Scientology (“a good acceptance speech should be like a Scientologist's birth – no tears and as few words as possible”), other awards were presented to best supporting actor Alan Arkin, for his heroin-addicted but loving gramps in Little Miss Sunshine; to best supporting actress Jennifer Hudson, for playing one of the Supremes-like Dreamgirls; and to Peter Morgan and Jeremy Brock, who received best adapted screenplay honors for The Last King of Scotland.

One surprise was the fact that Michael Arndt's cutesy comedy Little Miss Sunshine took the best original screenplay award – instead of Peter Morgan's much-admired script for The Queen, which revolves around a battle of wills between Queen Elizabeth II and prime minister Tony Blair following the death of Princess Diana.

Perhaps that happened because the British Academy was in a share-and-share-alike mood. Morgan, after all, had already co-won the best adapted screenplay award, so Orange Academy-ites may have figured it'd be a generous idea to give the other screenwriting trophy to somebody else.

Eva Green, Daniel Craig in Casino Royale
Eva Green, Daniel Craig in Casino Royale

In fact, no one film dominated the 2007 Baftas. Despite its nine nominations, Casino Royale won only one award (for best sound), in addition to a Rising Star trophy for Eva Green, while The Queen won only two of its ten nods. The two top winners of the evening turned out to be The Last King of Scotland and Pan's Labyrinth, each with a mere 3 wins. (In addition to its best foreign-language film award, Pan's Labyrinth received top honors for costume design and make-up/hair. It fared considerably better at the Spanish Academy's Goya Awards.)

The British Academy's “Everybody Wins!” approach also helps to explain the nonsense of having The Last King of Scotland as best British film and The Queen as best film, while having the best director award go to United 93.

Apparently, no one at the British Academy was bothered by the (contradictory) fact that the British-made “best film of 2006” wasn't the best British film, the best directed film, or the best written film of the year.

Addendum: The best British film is chosen by a jury panel, not by the general BAFTA membership. That helps to explain the best British film vs. best film contradiction.

* Helen Mirren did win as best British actress. She lost the best actress award to Streep.

Note: Three nominated short films, including best animation film Guy 101, are available for viewing through the British Academy's site.

Judi Dench and Helen Mirren quotes: The Scotsman

Jonathan Ross and Andrea Arnold quotes: Variety

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