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'Gravity,' '12 Years a Slave' win big at BAFTA awards

By Peter Shadbolt, for CNN
updated 11:34 AM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave" win top awards at prestigious British BAFTA ceremony
  • Steve McQueen-directed slavery drama wins best film and best actor awards
  • British-born actor Chiwetel Ejiofor wins best actor award
  • Dame Helen Mirren was given Academy's highest award, a fellowship

(CNN) -- The 3D space disaster movie "Gravity" and the drama "12 Years a Slave" scooped the awards at the 2014 BAFTA awards, with the harrowing portrayal of 19th century American slavery taking out best film and best actor awards.

Accepting the best film award, "12 Years a Slave" director Steve McQueen said: "There are 21 million people in slavery now as we sit here. I just hope that 150 years from now our ambivalence will not allow another film-maker to make this film."

British-born actor Chiwetel Ejiofor beat shortlisted actors Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks to win the best actor award, thanking McQueen for his "work, artistry and passion in this project."

Addressing his director he said: "This is yours, I know that ... you know that. I'm going to keep it, that's the kind of guy I am, but it's yours."

'12 Years a Slave' big winner at BAFTA
Making the BAFTA
Movie season success at the box office

Ejiofor is also in the frame to win an Oscar and may take the stage again at next month's Academy Awards ceremony.

CNN Oscar ballot: Make your choices, share your picks

The deep space thriller "Gravity," meanwhile, won an impressive six awards -- just one award shy of "The Artist" in 2012 and "The King's Speech" in 2011 -- including best director and best British film.

Alfonso Cuaron accepted the best director award for the film, which also triumphed in the special effects category against stiff competition from a shortlist that included "Iron Man 3," "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," "Pacific Rim" and "Star Trek Into Darkness."

The record of nine British Academy Film Awards is still held by the 1969 American Western "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

The biggest applause of the evening was reserved for newcomer Barkhad Abdi, who was named best supporting actor for his portrayal of a Somali pirate in "Captain Phillips."

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts hands out its film awards on Sunday, February 16, at the Royal Opera House in London. Here, Lily Allen poses on the red carpet. Click through to see other arrivals at the BAFTA awards: The British Academy of Film and Television Arts hands out its film awards on Sunday, February 16, at the Royal Opera House in London. Here, Lily Allen poses on the red carpet. Click through to see other arrivals at the BAFTA awards:
BAFTA 2014: Red carpet
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BAFTA 2014: Red carpet BAFTA 2014: Red carpet

Winning in a strong category against Bradley Cooper, Matt Damon and Michael Fassbender, he thanked co-star Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass for "believing in me before I believed in myself." Abdi, previously a limousine driver in Minneapolis, was cast after turning up to the audition on a whim.

Other winners included "The Act of Killing" -- a film examining the Indonesian death squads of the mid-1960s - which won in the documentary section. Its director Joshua Oppenheimer accused Britain and the US of actively supporting the 1965 genocide in Indonesia and the regime which followed.

The best animated film award went to Disney's "Frozen" -- a blockbuster that has grossed nearly $1 billion worldwide - which beat "Despicable Me 2" and "Monsters University" to the BAFTA.

There are 21 million people in slavery now as we sit here
Steve McQueen

Special coverage: Awards season 2014

The winner in the best short film category was "Room 8" and "Sleeping with the Fishes" won in the best short animation section.

Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope won in the best adapted screenplay section for "Philomena" -- a movie about a woman's 50-year-long search for her son, beating John Ridley's screenplay for "12 Years a Slave."

Coogan said there were still another 60,000 women who had not traced their children, taken from them by nuns and put up for adoption, and "their story isn't yet over".

Dame Helen Mirren was given BAFTA's highest award, a fellowship. Having played the British Queen in film, she was given the award, somewhat appropriately, by the Queen's grandson Prince William.

"I should probably call her granny," he joked.

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