The force of Gravity was strong at the British Academy Film Awards - but it was unflinching drama 12 Years a Slave that took the top prize.
Steve McQueen's visceral, violent story of a free black man kidnapped into servitude in the 19th-century US South was named best picture at Sunday's ceremony. Its star, Chiwetel Ejiofor, took the male acting trophy.
Ejiofor thanked McQueen, a visual artist who turned to filmmaking with Hunger and Shame, for bringing the story to the screen. Holding the trophy, the British actor told McQueen: "This is yours. I'm going to keep it - that's the kind of guy I am - but it's yours."
McQueen reminded the black-tie audience that, in some parts of the world, slavery is not a thing of the past. "There are 21 million people in slavery as we sit here," he said. "I just hope 150 years from now our ambivalence will not allow another filmmaker to make this film."
The prizes, coming two weeks before Hollywood's Academy Awards, are watched as an indicator of likely Oscars success.
Watch: Slave epic big Bafta winner as Hollywood descends on London
It was a good night for lost-in-space thriller Gravity, which won six prizes, including best director for Alfonso Cuaron.
The 3-D special effects extravaganza also took the awards for sound, music, cinematography and visual effects. And despite its mixed parentage - made in Britain by a Mexican director and starring American actors - it was named best British film.
Cuaron paid tribute to star Sandra Bullock, who is alone on screen for much of the film. "Without her performance, everything would have been nonsense," he said.
Con-artist caper American Hustle charmed its way to three prizes, including original screenplay and supporting actress for Jennifer Lawrence. Its spectacular 1970s stylings took the hair and make-up award.
The best-actress prize went to Cate Blanchett for her turn as a socialite on the slide in Blue Jasmine.
She dedicated the award to her friend and fellow actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died this month, calling him "a monumental presence who is now sadly an absence".
"Phil, buddy, this is for you … I hope you're proud," Blanchett said.
In the past few years, the British prizes, known as Baftas, have helped underdog films, including Slumdog Millionaire, The King's Speech and The Artist, gain Oscars momentum.
The awards have become an essential stop for many Hollywood stars before the Academy Awards, which will be held this year on March 2.
The temperature in London was hardly Hollywood, but Britain's fickle weather relented ahead of Sunday's ceremony. The sun shone as nominees including Wolf of Wall Street star Leonardo DiCaprio and 12 Years a Slave performer Lupita Nyong'o - striking in a green Dior gown - walked the red carpet outside London's Royal Opera House.
There was royalty of the Hollywood kind - Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, wearing matching tuxedos. And there was British royalty, too, in the form of Prince William, honorary president of the film academy.
Director Peter Greenaway received an award for outstanding contribution to British cinema for a body of unsettling, comic and erotic films that includes The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and The Draughtsman's Contract.
Greenaway said he hoped the trophy would encourage those, like him, "who believe that cinema has to be continually reinvented".
Helen Mirren received the British Academy Fellowship in recognition of a career that has ranged from a hard-nosed detective in TV series Prime Suspect to Queen Elizabeth in The Queen.
Mirren, 68, said she was "almost speechless" at receiving the honour, whose previous recipients include Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Elizabeth Taylor and Judi Dench.
"It's been an amazing journey up to now," she said.
She was given the trophy by Prince William - who said he should probably call her "granny". Mirren won an Oscar for playing his grandmother, Britain's monarch, in The Queen.
"I wanted to have a hanky in my bag and take it out and spit on it and clean his face," Mirren joked.
Best film: 12 Years a Slave
Outstanding British film: Gravity
Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Actress: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Supporting actor: Barkhad Adbi (Captain Phillips)
Supporting actress: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Director: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
Original screenplay: American Hustle
Adapted screenplay: Philomena
Animated film: Frozen
Documentary: The Act of Killing
Foreign film: The Great Beauty
Costume design: The Great Gatsby
Make-up and hair: American Hustle
Production design: The Great Gatsby
Visual effects: Gravity
Short animation: Sleeping with the Fishes
Short film: Room 8
Outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer: Kieran Evans (writer-director, Kelly + Victor)
Rising Star award: Will Poulter