In his introductory monologue to the BAFTAs, host Stephen Fry joked that this was the biggest night for the British film industry since, well, a year ago. But he was wrong. These days the BAFTAs aren’t just one night. They last four long days of lunches and dinners, pre-parties, parties and after-parties, sponsored by luxury brands.
BAFTA has always made a virtue of its snappy two-hour award show, in contrast to the never-ending Oscars. But ever since the British ceremony moved from the relatively humdrum setting of the Odeon Leicester Square cinema to the opulent grandeur of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the prize-giving has now become the sprint finish to a marathon of festivities.
These kicked off on Thursday with the inaugural BAFTA Gala Dinner at its Piccadilly HQ, a charity event which raised £250,000 ($380,000). Friday night saw an Ealing Studios/Lancome drinks reception at the Café Royal, then a Harvey Weinstein dinner sponsored by Grey Goose and Burberry. BAFTA laid on a lunch on Saturday to celebrate the award of its Fellowship to Mike Leigh. Then came the Audi Official Nominees party on Saturday night in the truly swanky venue of Kensington Palace — where several members of the Royal Family have their London homes, although none were spotting mingling with the movie crowd, who included nominees Amy Adams, Keira Knightley, Patricia Arquette, Reese Witherspoon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne and many more.
The Sunday night ceremony at the Royal Opera House was followed by the traditional dinner for the entire audience across town in the vast Grosvenor House Hotel ballroom on Park Lane. Then, for hardy souls still standing, it was on to the “official” after-party in the cavernous Grosvenor House, or to more intimate and exclusive shindigs thrown by Universal (which won big with “Boyhood” and “The Theory of Everything”) or the Weinstein Company (which lost big with “The Imitation Game”).
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It’s a sign of just what a hot ticket the BAFTAs have become that Tom Cruise, in the U.K. shooting “Mission: Impossible 5” but with no connection to any of the nominated films, invited himself along for the ride. Insiders said Cruise agreed to present the best film award simply because he wanted to come to the dinner afterwards. Fry, in what has been widely rumored to be his last stint as presenter, introduced this surprise appearance by exclaiming, “It’s Tom f–king Cruise!”
But two biggest stars of the night — at least judging by the public reactions on the red carpet, and also by the number of industryites grabbing selfies — weren’t actors at all, but soccer icon David Beckham, who presented the award for outstanding British feature, and professor Stephen Hawking, who received a standing ovation when he co-presented the VFX prize to “Interstellar” (appropriately enough) with Felicity Jones.
There’s an irony somewhere that amid all this glamour and grandeur and hullabaloo, the movie BAFTA ended up honoring above all as best picture was “Boyhood,” whose virtues lie in its extraordinary ordinariness and modesty — as its star Ellar Coltrane pointed out in his heartfelt acceptance speech, on behalf of absent director Richard Linklater.
Coltrane, an aspiring painter and writer as well as an actor, was spotted wandering the parties with a look of wry bemusement, fielding congratulations with a gentle charm. “It’s all about vulnerability for me,” he told Variety, echoing his speech when he said that “Boyhood” didn’t feel like a movie to him, “but an exercise in collaboration and vulnerability.”
At the BAFTA dinner, each table is dressed according to one of the best film nominees, including themed placemats with stills from the movies, which the diners get to take home with them. Coltrane was carrying a mat with a picture of himself from “Boyhood” — and one with Michael Keaton and Ed Norton from “Birdman.”
The absence of Linklater, as well as original screenplay winner Wes Anderson and all the other directing nominees, was down to an unfortunate clash with the Directors Guild of America awards in Los Angeles the night before. BAFTA insiders said various studios had seriously looked into hiring a plane to bring their directing nominees to London, but regardless of the cost, the timing proved impossible. Ralph Fiennes read an acceptance speech on behalf of Anderson, in which the director, a major Anglophile and self-described “BAFTA member in good standing,” described himself as “furious” about the clash. Although the tone was comic, it didn’t sound like he was entirely joking.
Given the victories for “Boyhood” and “The Theory of Everything,” the crowded Universal after-party at the Little House Mayfair (yet another branch of Nick Jones’s Soho House empire) was the place to be. Best actor winner Eddie Redmayne was center of attention, while director James Marsh’s BAFTA mask (for outstanding British feature) sat quietly on the piano. Other guests included supporting actress winner Patricia Arquette, “Trash” director Stephen Daldry, “71” director Yann Demange and former Oasis star Noel Gallagher.
(Presenter Tom Cruise poses with Jonathan Sehring, Ellar Coltrane, Cathleen Sutherland, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and John Sloss as they celebrate Best Film “Boyhood’ in the winners room at the EE British Academy Film Awards.)