LONDON, England (Variety) -- On a night when no film won more than two prizes, the big winner at the British Academy Film Awards was "The Pianist," which picked up best film and best director prizes for Roman Polanski.
Sunday's best picture award was a particular surprise, as "The Pianist" had received the fewest nominations, seven, of the five main contenders. With Oscar ballots going in the mail Tuesday, the two big wins -- coupled with a similar double victory at France's Cesar Awards on Saturday -- gave the Holocaust drama from Focus Features added impetus for the Academy Awards.
Polanski was not present to accept the honors, which were picked up in his absence by his star, Adrien Brody, and producers Robert Benmussa and Alain Sarde.
Daniel Day-Lewis was named best actor for his portrayal of Bill the Butcher in "Gangs of New York." Nicole Kidman took the best actress crown for her turn as Virginia Woolf in "The Hours," which also won best music for Philip Glass's score.
Catherine Zeta-Jones triumphed on home turf in the supporting actress category for the musical "Chicago," which also won the BAFTA for sound. Christopher Walken took the supporting actor prize for "Catch Me if You Can."
It was a successful night, too, for Pedro Almodovar, who climbed on stage twice to accept best original screenplay and best foreign film awards for "Talk to Her." Charlie (and Donald) Kaufman took the adapted screenplay award for "Adaptation."
First-time British director Asif Kapadia also scooped two prizes for "The Warrior." The picture, which is in Hindi, was chosen as best British film, and Kapadia was named best British newcomer.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" repeated the BAFTA success last year of its predecessor "The Fellowship of the Ring" in two categories, costume design and special visual effects.
It also was named as Orange Film of the Year, an award voted by the public from a shortlist of the year's top 10 grossing movies, and not an official BAFTA award. The prize is named for the cellphone company that sponsors the whole BAFTA ceremony.
"Road to Perdition" also nabbed two prizes. Conrad Hall was posthumously given the cinematography award, and it was also honored for production design.
The Brazilian movie "City of God" was the surprise winner of the editing category, and "Frida" won for best makeup/hair.
The even spread of the prizes is typical of the BAFTAs, which combines membership voting with specialist juries to ensure that no single film tends to sweep all the categories. The director award, for example, is voted on by a jury of 10 creatives, while the film award is voted on by the entire academy.
Among the evening's special awards, Saul Zaentz was honored with a BAFTA fellowship, and veteran assistant directors Michael Stevenson and David Tomlin were given BAFTAs for their career achievements.
Indeed, Day-Lewis spent most of his acceptance speech not talking about himself, but praising Stevenson. Continuing the modest tone, Kidman said her award was equally for her co-stars Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore: "It's so lovely to share this with two very special women, and I do -- I divide it into three and we have it together."
Zaentz, Almodovar and Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal (who was handing out the cinematography prize) all used the BAFTA platform to make anti-war statements.
Zaentz condemned what he called the "outright criminality at the highest level of (America's) court-elected government," and evoked the spirit of Martin Luther King to proclaim "we shall overcome."
Almodovar rattled off a prepared speech whose gist was that "cinema and war are very different things" -- cinema being about light, he said, and war about darkness -- ending with a rallying cry, "We must stop this army of darkness." He delivered the speech, however, at such speed and in such heavily accented English that it was virtually incomprehensible to most of the audience.
Bernal (who, perhaps not coincidentally, will star in Almodovar's next film "Bad Education") constructed his protest speech rather more wittily: "Last week millions of people voted against the war in Iraq and still we haven't heard an answer from the governments. Last week, 10 people also voted for best cinematography, and I have got the answer," he said.
A rather more comic highlight of the evening was Meryl Streep accepting Charlie Kaufman's prize in his absence, and reading out a statement from the writer that she clearly hadn't had a chance to scan beforehand.
Kaufman's speech, as spoken by Streep, largely consisted of him agonizing about whether he could write a good enough speech for Streep to deliver, and worrying that if he wrote a joke, it would fall flat, and then "It will be as if I had spit on Meryl Streep across the ocean and this after she has been kind enough to accept on my behalf."
Streep then found herself reading Kaufman's words about how great an actress she is, and then about how she is "maybe one of the most modest, nicest people ever."
The ceremony took place, as in the past couple of years, at the Odeon Leicester Square in the heart of London's West End. It was followed by an official dinner at the Grosvenor House Hotel.