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Jackson and Weir hailed by Baftas

Story by: Jack Foley

THE final part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy may have been named best film at the Baftas, on Sunday, February 15, but Peter Jackson missed out on the best director accolade in a night of several surprises.

The Return of the King was the night's big winner, with a total of five honours, but the coveted honour of best director was taken by Master and Commander helmer, Peter Weir, in what proved to be one of the big shocks of the glittering occasion.

Another big winner was Lost in Translation, with stars Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray winning best actor and best actress awards.

The awards, which represent Britain's equivalent to the Oscars and which are viewed as an indicator of possible success at the Academy Awards, has a habit of throwing up surprises.

But many believed Jackson's film would triumph in just about every award that it went for.

It did, however, pick up the audience award for best film, as voted for by members of the general public.

Jackson, who was on hand to collect the award for the film itself, did not seem too disappointed, and paid tribute to the book's author, JRR Tolkien.

"Although we were Kiwis working with American money, we were always aware we were looking after a British treasure," he commented.

The Return of the King beat Big Fish, Cold Mountain, Lost in Translation and Master and Commander to the best film prize.

The night's big loser, however, was Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain, which had received 13 nominations, but received just two awards - for best supporting actress, for Renee Zellweger, and best music.

It was a fate which echoed its performance at the Golden Globes, where it had received the most nominations, only to come up virtually empty (save for Zellweger).

In the best actor category, Murray proved a popular winner, having faced stiff opposition from the likes of Sean Penn - but he was not there to pick up the accolade.

Instead, the film's director, Sofia Coppola, picked it up on his behalf and read out a statement which said that it had been a 'huge surprise' to win.

Best actress, Johansson, was there, however, and thanked her mother for 'being there, taking me to auditions and buying me hotdogs afterwards'.

Of the other notable absentees from the ceremony, best director, Weir, missed out on collecting his trophy - an honour which was passed to one of his stars, British actor, Paul Bettany, who hailed Weir as 'a genius', and 'one of the greatest directors of all time'.

Zellweger, who did attend, thanked everyone who worked on Cold Mountain, and described it as 'a privilege' to work alongside the likes of co-stars Jude Law and Nicole Kidman.

Despite some of the winners being absent, however, the occasion still drew out some big names, with the likes of Johnny Depp, Laura Linney, Sir Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson and Holly Hunter in attendance.

Another of the night's surprises was the Alexander Korda prize for best British film of the year, which went to documentary, Touching the Void, and not, as predicted, either Cold Mountain or Girl With a Pearl Earring.

Producer, John Smithson, said: "We had one hell of a cold mountain but not quite the same budget."

A popular winner, however, was Bill Nighy, whose comic turn in Love Actually, won him the best supporting actor Bafta.

And British film-maker, Michael Winterbottom, picked up the best foreign film award, for his movie, In This World, about refugees.

Technical awards went to Master and Commander, for best sound and best costume design, and Lost in Translation, which won for best editing.

The awards, as ever, were hosted by actor and comedian, Stephen Fry, who kept audiences enthralled with a series of glib one-liners, including one particularly well-realised nod to the now infamous incident involving singer, Janet Jackson's exposed breast.

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