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Colin Firth wins best actor at British film awards

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LONDON (AP) - Colin Firth has won the best actor prize at Britain's top film awards, on a night that saw "The King's Speech" take a fistful of prizes.

Firth won the award Sunday for playing stuttering monarch King George VI in the royal drama.

The film had 14 nominations and also won supporting actor awards for Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush, as well as prizes for music, screenplay and best British film.

But it wasn't a clean sweep for the made-in-England favorite. David Fincher was named best director for "The Social Network," and Natalie Portman took the best actress prize for "Black Swan."

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

LONDON (AP) _ Royal drama "The King's Speech" faced off Sunday against a ballet thriller, an Internet drama and a tine-twisting sci-fi tale for Britain's top film prizes _ a foretaste of the Academy Awards in Hollywood later this month.

The made-in-England story of stuttering monarch King George VI had 14 nominations for the British Academy Film Awards and took five early prizes: best British film, original screenplay, original music, supporting actor for Geoffrey Rush and supporting actress, for Helena Bonham Carter's performance as the Queen Mother Elizabeth.

"I think I should thank the royal family, frankly, because they've done wonders for my career," Bonham Carter said.

Colin Firth is the favorite to be named best actor for playing a king struggling to find his voice in his country's hour of need.

"The King's Speech" faced strong competition from psychosexual dance thriller "Black Swan," nominated in 12 categories, and Facebook-founding drama "The Social Network," which has six nominations and growing momentum following wins at the Golden Globes and other awards.

"The Social Network" took the editing prize, while mind-bending saga "Inception" won prizes for sound, production design and visual effects.

The awards, known as BAFTAs, are considered a strong indicator of possible Oscars glory. Last year, Iraq war drama "The Hurt Locker" won six BAFTAs, including best picture _ then repeated the feat at the Oscars.

Sunday's ceremony provides a curtain raiser for the Feb. 27 Oscars, offering a mix of gray skies, British style and Hollywood glamour. Stars including Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Neve Campbell, Barbara Hershey and Bonham Carter _ in a black Vivienne Westwood dress _ braved a blustery London drizzle to walk the red carpet at London's Royal Opera House before the televised awards show.

Jesse Eisenberg, the attention-shy star of "The Social Network," said it was "an overwhelming experience to be here" _ and tipped Firth to take the best actor prize.

"Colin Firth is incredible in that movie and this is his home turf," he said.

"Inception" had nine nominations, while limb-lopping endurance story "127 Hours" and Coen brothers Western "True Grit" had eight each.

But "The King's Speech" was the film to beat. Perfectly timed in a year that sees the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and impeccably acted, the movie is a flag-waving British triumph.

It tells the true story of George VI, thrust unexpectedly onto the throne by his elder brother's abdication, and his battle to overcome a stammer with the help of an unconventional speech therapist.

With its eve-of-World War II setting and blend of deference and irreverence, "The King's Speech" has struck a popular chord around the world. The film has already earned many times its reported 15 million-pound ($24 million) budget and was favored to take the best-picture prize over "The Social Network," "Black Swan," "Inception" and "True Grit."

"Films like this depend entirely on what people say about them," Firth said this week after being named actor of the year at the London Critics' Circle Film Awards. "They don't depend on the money because there wasn't much, they don't depend on a big studio machine or a big financial apparatus."

Firth was heavy favorite to win the best actor prize, in a strong field that includes Eisenberg for playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network," James Franco for "127 Hours," Javier Bardem for "Biutiful" and Jeff Bridges for "True Grit."

Firth has already won a best-actor trophy at the Golden Globes and is a favorite for an Oscar. A win would be the 50-year-old actor's second BAFTA in a row _ he took the acting prize last year for "A Single Man."

Natalie Portman's performance as a tormented dancer in "Black Swan" faced competition from Annette Bening and Julianne Moore for lesbian family drama "The Kids Are All Right," Noomi Rapace for Swedish thriller "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld for "True Grit."

Best-director nominees were David Fincher for "The Social Network," Tom Hooper for "The King's Speech," Danny Boyle for "127 Hours," Darren Aronofsky for "Black Swan" and Christopher Nolan for "Inception."

David Parfitt, deputy chairman of the British film academy, said this has been "a very good year for the Brits," with British movies and talent making a strong showing at international awards.

But Britain's movie industry faces uncertainty amid an economic slowdown and government funding cuts. "The King's Speech" was partly funded by the U.K. Film Council, a body recently abolished by the country's Conservative-led government

The ceremony tried to lift the mood and celebrate British success, giving an award to the money-minting "Harry Potter" franchise for outstanding British contribution to cinema.

Christopher Lee, the aristocratic 88-year-old actor who chilled generations as Count Dracula in a series of Hammer Studios horror classics, was due to receive a lifetime achievement award.

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Aaron Edwards contributed to this report.

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Online: http://www.bafta.org

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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