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War drama ‘1917’ wins big at the BAFTAs

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LONDON — Gut-wrenching World War I epic 1917 was the big winner at Sunday’s British Academy Film Awards, winning seven awards including best picture and best director.

Sam Mendes’ drama about one of the most devastating conflicts in British history bested hotly tipped American contenders Joker, The Irishman and Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood at a glitzy London event that was overshadowed by criticism of the nominees’ lack of diversity — even from some of the nominees themselves.

Director Mendes based 1917 on his grandfather’s wartime experiences. Shot in sinuous long takes that immerse viewers in the action, it follows two British soldiers on a perilous mission across No Man’s Land to try to avert a suicidal offensive.

1917 was also named best British film and won the cinematography prize — Roger Deakins’ fifth win in that category. It also took the prizes for production design, sound and visual effects.

Joaquin Phoenix was named best actor for superhero story Joker, which charts the origins of Batman’s ginning nemesis. Renee Zellweger took the best actress prize for the Judy Garland biopic Judy.

Joker took three prizes — best actor, casting and score — from 11 nominations. Martin Scorsese’s mob drama The Irishman had 10 but went home empty-handed.

Victory at the British awards, known as BAFTAs, is often a good predictor for the work that will be recognized at Hollywood’s Academy Awards, being held this year on Feb. 9. Like the Oscars, the British awards have struggled to become less male and white.

No women were nominated as best director for the seventh year running, and all 20 nominees in the lead and supporting performer categories were white.

Phoenix slammed the lack of diversity in his acceptance speech, saying it sent “a very clear message to people of colour that `You’re not welcome here.”’

Awards organizers called it “disappointing” that there were no performers of colour among the acting nominees, who are chosen by 6,500 academy members who work in the U.K. and international film industry.

The rising star award — the one trophy decided by the public — went to black British actor Micheal Ward.

British star Cynthia Erivo, who is Oscar-nominated for her performance as abolitionist Harriet Tubman in Harriet but was snubbed by Britain’s Academy, declined an invitation to perform at Sunday’s award ceremony in protest.

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