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Last Updated: Monday, 20 February 2006, 01:46 GMT
Cowboys ride to glory at the Baftas
by Victoria Lindrea
BBC News entertainment reporter

Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams
Brokeback stars Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams braved the rain
Leicester Square may be a far cry from the lofty palm trees of Los Angeles' Sunset Boulevard, but there was no doubt where the stars were partying on Sunday night.

Pierce Brosnan, Jude Law, Charlize Theron and Renee Zellwegger were among the celebrities stepping out on the red carpet at the annual British Academy Film Awards in London.

The Odeon cinema might not be the ritziest of venues, but with just two weeks to go before the Academy Awards, the Baftas have become a key event in the film awards calendar and the nominees have everything to play for.

Unfortunately the weather proved less celebratory. A cold and damp night greeted the stars of the silver screen, who cowered under a flurry of sponsors' umbrellas.

Moving the awards forward may have been good for Britain's profile, but it has done nothing for the global view of our climate.

Ziyi Zhang, who stars in Memoirs of a Geisha
Memoirs of a Geisha won three awards in the technical categories

Reluctant to leave the warmth of their luxury hotels, the nominees arrived late to the red carpet - and swiftly moved on.

Philip Seymour Hoffman led a wave of contenders for the best actor award, saying he was "honoured and overwhelmed" by his first Bafta nomination.

"It looks like it's going to be quite a party," said the 38-year-old actor, who was eventually to win the award.

Fellow best actor rivals Heath Ledger and David Strathairn also graced the carpet, but Ralph Fiennes dodged the press, no doubt fearing questions about his recent split with Francesca Annis.

"I feel kind of like a deer in the headlights," said Strathairn, nominated for his role in Good Night, and Good Luck. "It's quite a big dance and it's my first time on the floor."

George Clooney
Double supporting actor nominee Clooney lost out to Jake Gyllenhaal

His words were almost drowned out with the arrival of co-star George Clooney.

While it was a disappointing night for Clooney, who left empty-handed, there was no doubting the actor-turned-director was the celebrity draw of the night.

The paparazzi clamoured from the sidelines, and Clooney - no stranger to the spotlight - worked the crowd like a pro, sharing jokes with reporters and hugs with his fellow actors, William H Macy and his wife, Felicity Huffman.

He told reporters that his four nominations were "mind-boggling". "It means I automatically lose whatever happens," joked the 44-year-old.

As the shivering stars hurried out of the rain, the ceremony swung into action with some early British success for newcomer James McAvoy and director Joe Wright.

Joe Wright
Director Joe Wright won for an award for his first feature film

"I had the element of surprise on my side with Pride and Prejudice," said Wright, who won the Carl Foreman award. "People weren't expecting much."

"I love working in Britain, " he added. "I think it's really important that we support our film industry, and look after each other and care for each other."

"I think there is a slight problem with the British psyche in that they are not very good at supporting one another sometimes."

James McAvoy, who won the Orange Rising Star award for his role as Mr Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia, confided that he had slept about four hours in the past two days.

"I didn't realise how vain I was or how much I wanted to win this," said the 27-year-old Scot.

Rachel Weisz
Constant Gardener's Rachel Weisz had been tipped to win an award

But as the evening went on, there was a palpable sense of disappointment among the British press as award after award went to Hollywood stars.

The Constant Gardener's Rachel Weisz had been widely tipped for best actress, but the prize went to an absent Reese Witherspoon.

In the end, it was Brokeback Mountain's evening, not The Constant Gardener's - with the results almost a carbon copy of the Golden Globes.

Nonetheless an exuberant Ang Lee talked up his admiration for the British.

"I feel very connected here," the Brokeback Mountain director told reporters.

"This is where I learnt how to make period films and how to make English language films. I made my breakthrough here. I very much feel the embrace of English."

Ang Lee
Ang Lee followed his Golden Globe success with a Bafta win

Even lead actor Heath Ledger, a notoriously reluctant star, was enjoying the moment.

"Everything came together. Creatively it was very rewarding and personally it was very rewarding, " he said, clutching the hand of his co-star Michelle Williams, with whom he recently had a baby daughter.

"The films this year show extreme maturity and courage," added co-star Jake Gyllenhaal.

"I hope we have the opportunity to make more films like this because I personally can't turn back."

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