The momentum ahead of next month’s Oscars appears to be with the ferocious female-led tragicomedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, after Martin McDonagh’s film was the big winner on Sunday night at the British Academy Film Awards in London.
Fittingly, in a year when women in the film industry have been demanding an end to harassment following the shocking revelations about Harvey Weinstein, abuse and inequality dominated the ceremony, with many winners and presenters using their time on the stage to refer to the ongoing scandal.
Three Billboards, a scintillating takedown of institutionalised sexism and racism about a bereaved mother seeking justice, won five trophies including best film, outstanding British film and best actress, for Frances McDormand.
Producer Graham Broadbent said the movie is “the story of a woman taking on the establishment and status quo — It seems more timely now than we could ever have imagined".
The writer-director McDonagh said that it was appropriate, in the year of the "Time’s Up" campaign that is attacking the antediluvian sexual politics of Hollywood, that Three Billboards was “a film about a woman who refuses to take any s*** anymore".
“Our film is a hopeful one in lots of ways but it's also an angry one,” Mr McDonagh said. “As we’ve seen this year, sometimes anger is the only way to get people to listen and to change.”
McDonagh won the original screenplay prize for Three Billboards, for which Sam Rockwell also nabbed the supporting actor trophy. Allison Janney was named best supporting actress for playing ice skater Tonya Harding’s domineering mother in I, Tonya.
Spanish director Guillermo del Toro won the prize for monster fantasy The Shape of Water, which also won trophies for music and production design. He praised the influence of British filmmakers such as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger on his own inimitable vision but the feeling that his movie was on course to collect many of the 13 nominations it had for the Oscars has faded somewhat.
Gary Oldman, the favourite for the best actor prize for playing British prime minister Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, collected that award and will be most people’s expectation to collect the same gong next month, despite stiff competition from multiple Oscar-winner Daniel Day Lewis for his role in Phantom Thread.
Daniel Kaluuya, the 28-year-old British star of the American comic horror Get Out, won the rising star award and made a plea for public arts funding, which helped him get his start. Mr Kaluuya, who is also Oscar-nominated for his role, joked that success meant taking Ubers rather than the subway.
“I get that Prius everywhere,” he said.
In recent years, the Baftas have increasingly been considered a key indicator of likely probable success at Hollywood’s top ceremony in two weeks’ time.
The red carpet and the auditorium at London’s Royal Albert Hall were a sea of black as actresses such as Lupita Nyong’o, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lawrence and Margot Robbie wore the colour as a statement against sexual misconduct and gender inequality.
Several actresses brought feminist activists as guests, and men such as McDonagh showed solidarity with Time’s Up lapel pins.
McDormand opted to wear black and red rather than all black, and noted: “I have a little trouble with compliance” in a sharply humorous speech when she received her award.
“But I want you to know that I stand in full solidarity with my sisters tonight in black,” she said.
Actress Andrea Riseborough brought UK Black Pride founder Phyll Opoku-Gyimah as her guest, and said she hoped the film industry was on the road to greater equality and diversity.
“It’s more likely we’ll see an alien on-screen than we’ll see an Asian woman at the moment, which is disgraceful,” Ms Riseborough said, referring the extraterrestrial in The Shape of Water.