Sci-fi epic “Dune” took four early prizes from a field-leading 11 nominations as the British Academy Film Awards returned Sunday with a live, black-tie ceremony after a pandemic-curtailed event in 2021.
Acting nominees Benedict Cumberbatch and Lady Gaga were among the stars walking the red carpet at London’s Royal Albert Hall before a ceremony hosted by Australian actor-comedian Rebel Wilson.
Last year’s event was largely conducted online, with only the hosts and presenters appearing in person. This year, stars were gathering in the shadow of Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine.
Krishnendu Majumdar, chairman of the British Film Academy, known as BAFTA, opened the show with a message of support for Ukraine.
“We stand in solidarity with those who are bravely fighting for their country and we share their hope for a return to peace,” he said.
After that came the glitz, with 85-year-old diva Shirley Bassey and a live orchestra performing “Diamonds Are Forever” to mark the 60th anniversary of the James Bond films.
“Bond is turning 60, and his girlfriends are turning 25,” joked host Wilson, who toned down her usual bawdy material for the ceremony’s early-evening TV broadcast on the BBC.
Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” starring Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya, has 11 nominations including best film, cinematography and original score.
The space saga set on a desert planet took awards early in the ceremony for visual effects, sound, Greig Fraser’s cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s score.
Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” set in 1920s Montana and starring Cumberbatch as a ranch owner, has eight including best director and best film.
If Campion takes the directing trophy she will be only the third female winner in that category, but the second in two years after Chloe Zhao for “Nomadland” in 2021.
Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical “Belfast,” the story of a childhood overshadowed by Northern Ireland’s violent “Troubles,” has six nominations including best film. Daniel Craig’s final 007 thriller, “No Time to Die,” Steven Spielberg’s musical “West Side Story” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s coming-of-age drama “Licorice Pizza” has five nominations apiece.
Best-picture nominees are “Dune,” “The Power of the Dog,” “Belfast,” “Licorice Pizza” and disaster comedy “Don’t Look Up.”
The separate category of best British film comprises “After Love,” “Ali & Ava,” “Belfast,” “Boiling Point,” “Cyrano,” “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” “House of Gucci,” “Last Night in Soho,” “No Time to Die” and “Passing.”
The contenders for best actor are Cumberbatch, Adeel Akhtar for “Ali & Ava,” Mahershala Ali for “Swan Song,” Stephen Graham for “Boiling Point,” Leonardo DiCaprio for “Don’t Look Up” and Will Smith for “King Richard.”
Leading actress nominees are Lady Gaga for “House of Gucci,” Alana Haim for “Licorice Pizza,” Emilia Jones for “Coda,” Renate Reinsve for “The Worst Person in The World,” Joanna Scanlan for “After Love” and Tessa Thompson for “Passing.” The category is the most unpredictable of the night, with acclaimed performances by Kristen Stewart in the Princess Diana biopic “Spencer” and Olivia Colman in “The Lost Daughter” overlooked for nomination.
The British awards are usually held a week or two before the Academy Awards and have become an important awards-season staging post. This year’s Oscars take place March 27.
The British film academy has expanded its voting membership and shaken up its rules in recent years in an attempt to address a glaring lack of diversity in the nominations. In 2020, no women were nominated as best director for a seventh consecutive year, and all 20 nominees in the lead and supporting performer categories were white.
Awards organizers say they are committed to supporting new talent, and this year all the performers in the supporting actor category are first-time nominees. They include Woody Norman for “C’mon C’mon” — at 11 years old the youngest nominee of the year — and Ariana DeBose, who plays Anita in “West Side Story.”
The celebration of cinema was subdued, with many attendees reflecting on the war raging on the other side of Europe.
Cumberbatch wore a lapel badge in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag. He said it was to oppose the “megalomaniac” Russian President Vladimir Putin “raining down terror” on Ukraine.
“It’s a very scary and sad time,” he said on the red carpet. “Although this is a gesture, and people can say it’s hollow, it’s just something I can do tonight” — along with pressuring British politicians to take in more refugees from the war.
Jonas Poher Rasmussen, director of the animated feature “Flee,” the story of an Afghan refugee, said it was “surreal” to be at an awards show when “the world is burning.”
But he said images of the millions driven from their homes in Ukraine underscored the message that “these stories need to be told.”