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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.


Aaron Edwards contributed to this report.