The signs may have pointed towards an outburst of flag-waving patriotic fervour at the Orange British Academy Film Awards last Sunday (February 11), but the Baftas failed to conform. Nine ground-breaking nominations for James Bond blockbuster Casino Royale resulted in just one win in the sound category and the compensation of the Rising Star Award for Eva Green. The Queen may have won best film and best actress for Helen Mirren, but it did not sweep the board - with the award of best original screenplay going to Little Miss Sunshine and best director to Paul Greengrass providing some of the mild surprises in an evening that spread the prizes much more generously than many had predicted.
Multiple wins for Pan's Labyrinth, The Last King Of Scotland, Children Of Men, United 93 and Little Miss Sunshine lent a true international dimension to an evening that was notable for the level of absenteeism among the major nominees. Neither best supporting actor winner Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) or best supporting actress choice Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) were present to accept their awards or participate in the time-honoured substitute of expressing their gratitude via satellite. Peter O'Toole, Meryl Streep, Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio were among the other nominees who failed to make the journey to the awards and their absence did diminish the glamour quotient and any element of excitement over who might possibly win. It almost seemed as if everyone was so convinced of victories for Mirren and Forest Whitaker that their presence was an optional extra.
The unstoppable Mirren and the growing acclaim for Whitaker should confirm their joint status as the Oscar front-runners, but Oscar-watchers could draw few further conclusions from the Bafta results. Once again, there is a significant amount of discrepancy between the Bafta and Oscar contenders that makes comparisons unhelpful, as Oscar hopefuls such as Letters From Iwo Jima, Blood Diamond and The Pursuit Of Happyness failed to secure any Bafta nominations.
It was the start of a new chapter in Bafta history with the move to the spacious new venue of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and the employment of Jonathan Ross as host after six years of effortless wit and sparkle from the beloved Stephen Fry. The venue and lengthy red carpet area surrounding it added to the sense of occasion, although the television cameras' newfound ability to suddenly pounce on winners as they ventured backstage was more alarming than illuminating.
A familiar face on British TV, chat show host and film critic Ross proved an adequate host - subduing his trademark bad boy repartee in respect for the audience and he did not spend the evening introducing Uma to Oprah. He also gamely withstood the witty barbs of presenter Ricky Gervais. "At least the Americans knew who he was," claimed Gervais as he paid cheeky tribute to Stephen Fry.
Gervais was one of the better presenters, mercifully eschewing the lame banter allotted to some of his fellow luminaries. Despite the absence of some famous faces, the democratic nature of the prizes and the lack of sobbing winners and crimes against fashion, the Baftas had its memorable moments in Helen Mirren's emotional tribute to actor and friend Ian Richardson, who died two days before the ceremony, and the warm response to veteran Lawrence Of Arabia editor Anne V Coates as she received the Academy Fellowship.
It might not have been the triumphalist evening that many had predicted, but by soberly honouring The Queen, The Last King Of Scotland, United 93 and Red Road, it proved to be an effective showcase for the wealth of British talent at home and abroad.