By Paul Sheehan, Gold Derby Executive Editor
On Sunday, 'The King's Speech' was crowned both Best Picture and Best British Film by the voters of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. This marked the first time one film has won both of those races since the domestic prize was reintroduced in 1992. BAFTA bestowed seven awards in all on the stirring biopic about the efforts of King George VI to overcome a crippling stammer and deliver a rousing address to his empire on the eve of World War II.
Heading into the BAFTAs, 'The King's Speech' was the front-runner at the Oscars with a leading 12 nominations. The film had already won over both the producers and actors guilds, and helmer Tom Hooper took the bellwether Directors Guild Award as well.
However, 'The King's Speech' won just half of its 14 BAFTA bids. Could this be a sign that its Oscar fate is not yet sealed? About 10 percent of the nearly 5,800 Oscar voters also belong to BAFTA.
In the decade since the BAFTAs moved forward to take place while academy members are still voting, they have foreseen four Best Picture Oscar winners: 'Gladiator' (2000), 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King' (2003), 'Slumdog Millionaire' (2008) and 'The Hurt Locker' (2009).
Last year's surprise BAFTA sweep by the indie war drama over the 3-D blockbuster 'Avatar' gave it a much-needed boost towards the Oscars. 'The Hurt Locker' won five of its other eight BAFTA bids -- director, original screenplay, editing, sound and cinematography –- and repeated for all of those save the last (which went to 'Avatar') at the Oscars.
'King's Speech' leading man Colin Firth won his second-consecutive best actor BAFTA; he prevailed last year for 'A Single Man' over eventual Oscar champ Jeff Bridges ('Crazy Heart'). Having swept all of the precursor prizes, he is all but certain to win at the Oscars, too.
Veteran scripter David Seidler picked up a BAFTA for penning 'The King's Speech.' He wrote the original screenplay more than three decades ago but deferred to the wishes of the king's widow, Queen Elizabeth, to wait until her death before proceeding. While Seidler was ineligible with the writers' guild -- which went with Christopher Nolan for 'Inception' – he is favored to take home the Oscar.
Although BAFTA has forecast many of the eventual Oscar acting champs, the prospects of 'The King's Speech' supporting players Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter repeating are somewhat diminished. At the BAFTAs, Rush did defeat Christian Bale ('The Fighter') for the first time in their head-to-head contests. But with wins at the Golden Globes, Critics' Choice and Screen Actors Guild, Bale is still favored at the Oscars.
Carter acknowledged in her BAFTA acceptance speech just how nice it was to win for a change. However, her chief rivals for the Oscar -– Melissa Leo ('The Fighter') and Hailee Steinfeld ('True Grit') –- did not number among the BAFTA nominees. Leo was snubbed in favor of co-star Amy Adams while Steinfeld contended in the best actress category. As for that race, 'Black Swan' leading lady Natalie Portman solidified her frontrunner status with yet another win.
Among the seven BAFTA defeats for 'The King's Speech,' the most surprising was that of best director. Hooper failed to win over his fellow Brits, losing the race to David Fincher, director of 'The Social Network.' That film, about the founding of Facebook, had swept all the critics awards but saw its Oscar prospects diminish when 'King's Speech' began winning the guild prizes. Perhaps Academy voters will split their vote, with 'King's Speech' winning Best Picture while Fincher takes home the directing Oscar.
'The Social Network' also won the BAFTA for editing over the slower-paced 'King's Speech,' as well as the flashier '127 Hours' and 'Black Swan.' All of these films, plus 'The Fighter,' contend for that prize at the Oscars where it has proven to be a telltale sign of the eventual Best Picture winner.
'The King's Speech' also lost several key below-the-line categories. Unlike the Oscars, where the entire membership casts ballots in these races, BAFTA restricts voting in the craft categories to the specific branches.
'Inception' won the production design BAFTA. With 'Avatar' winning both this award and the Oscar last year, we may be seeing a shift away from the historical epics that once dominated here. 'Inception' also took the sound award.
'Alice in Wonderland' won a third BAFTA for costume designer Colleen Atwood. Last year's BAFTA and Oscar winner was 'The Young Victoria,' a historical drama about King George VI's great-grandmother Queen Victoria.