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Last Updated: Monday, 11 February 2008, 02:42 GMT
Night of stars and absent friends
By Liam Allen
Entertainment reporter, BBC News at the Baftas

The cream of British, US and European film talent was out in force at a glittering Bafta awards ceremony - but the night was as much about those who were missing as those who were at the London gala.

Jeff Goldblum, Kevin Spacey and Ricky Gervais
British and American stars were out in force at the awards

A vintage year for British actors brought to the awards, among others, Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, of best film Atonement and Daniel Day-Lewis, who said he was honoured to win the best actor award "in my town".

Young performers alongside the experienced Day-Lewis on the red carpet included Sienna Miller and Control star Sam Riley, both rising star award nominees.

McAvoy, speaking outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony, praised the "great British work on show".

"It's been a great year for America and yet the Brits have still managed to get here through merit, I think - not just through nationalistic pride."

But it was the Americans who upped the ante in the A-list stakes with Kevin Spacey, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel and Oscar-winning Jerry Maguire actor Cuba Gooding Jr delighting red carpet crowds ahead of the ceremony.

Mistaken identity

The Europeans, meanwhile, added more than a hint of glamour to the proceedings.

Tilda Swinton
Proof that I'm astonished - I would have never have worn this skirt
Tilda Swinton on winning

Dashing Spaniard Javier Bardem, sporting a debonair beard, picked up best supporting actor for his portrayal of sinister hitman Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.

Marion Cotillard, stunning in a sequinned Chanel number, flew the flag for France, providing at least as much continental glamour as Bardem.

At one point Cotillard, the star of Edith Piaf biopic La Vie En Rose brought shouts of "Keira, Keira" from members of the crowd who mistook her for her Atonement counterpart.

It was Cotillard, too, who provided the Gwyneth Paltrow moment of the ceremony when she broke down in tears, overwhelmed during her speech after winning best actress.

Perhaps the most outlandish outfit of the night was worn by Briton Tilda Swinton who picked up best supporting actress for Michael Clayton.

"Proof that I'm astonished - I would have never have worn this skirt," she said of her yellow and black Chanel creation in her speech.

Atonement director Joe Wright
It's all down to Ian McEwan's spectacular novel
Atonement director Joe Wright

But while the winners who were present provided colour and drama to the evening, those who were absent - for a variety of different reasons - also made significant contributions.

Speaking backstage, Joe Wright, director of best film Atonement, said the success of the film was largely due to author Ian McEwan, who chose not to attend.

"It's all down to Ian McEwan's spectacular novel," he said.

"It's an extraordinary book."

'Steady progression'

Shane Meadows, director of This Is England, voted best British film, dedicated the award to the film's young star, Thomas Turgoose.

Turgoose was discovered at a youth project in Grimsby for children excluded from school. He was not at the awards, perhaps because it was past his bedtime.

Meadows said in his speech: "For Tommo, the young boy in the film, thank you.

Thomas Turgoose
Thomas Turgoose plays the lead role in Meadows' This Is England

"I was quite a naughty boy at his age and my life turned around over 20 years and was a very steady progression.

"I took him from a worse place than I'd ever been in and he turned his own life around in six weeks making this film and I want to dedicate this to him."

And, accepting the Carl Foreman Award for special achievement in a first film, Control writer Matt Greenhalgh paid tribute to the late Tony Wilson.

Factory Records boss Wilson, who died last year, was instrumental in the success in the late 1970s of Manchester band Joy Division, whose lead singer, Ian Curtis, is the subject of Control.

Greenhalgh said: "I want to dedicate this to a guy that should be here tonight but obviously isn't.

"Tony Wilson - crucial to this whole story and crucial to me."

Absent friends

Day-Lewis - voted best actor for There Will Be Blood - remembered Heath Ledger in a backstage press conference.

He said: "Obviously, if I hadn't already had the occasion of the Screen Actors Guild awards to dedicate this award to Heath Ledger then Heath would certainly have been a man tonight I would like to have recognised."

Daniel Radcliffe and Daniel Day-Lewis
Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe and Day-Lewis met on the carpet

Rounding off a night of tributes to absent friends was Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who wrote and directed best foreign film The Lives of Others.

He said that without his leading man Ulrich Muehe - who died of cancer after the film was made - the film would not have been a success.

In his acceptance speech, von Donnersmarck spoke of the belief in the film held by Muhe, who played a Stasi agent in early-1980s East Germany in the film.

"When production companies were dropping out and financiers lost faith with this project, Ulrich was willing to stay on this project almost for free," he said.

"He believed in the film and made it possible to get it made.

"Without him there would be no Bafta and this film would not exist."

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