updated 08/25/2015 AT 8:16 PM ET
•originally published 02/16/2014 AT 6:10 PM ET
Spoiler alert! If you are going to watch the BAFTA broadcast Sunday night on BBC America and want to be surprised, read no further.
The force of Gravity was strong at the British Academy Film Awards on Sunday – 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 U.S. South was named best picture. 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 ceremony’s 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.”
Lost-in-space thriller Gravity – made in Britain by a Mexican director and starring American actors – won six prizes, including best director, for Alfonso Cuarén.
The 3-D special effects extravaganza also won the awards for sound, music, cinematography and visual effects, and despite its mixed parentage was named best British film.
Cuarén paid tribute to star Sandra Bullock, who is alone onscreen 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 70s stylings took the hair and makeup 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.”
The supporting actor prize went to Barkhad Abdi, who made an explosive screen debut as a Somali pirate in Captain Phillips.
The 28-year-old called his experience of going from obscurity in Minnesota to stardom – complete with an Oscar nomination – “surreal.”
Praising the other Somali actors who played his fellow pirates, he said: “We came from nothing and we got this.”
Helen Mirren received the British Academy Fellowship in honor of a career that has ranged from a hard-nosed detective in TV series Prime Suspect to Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen.
Mirren, 68, said she was “almost speechless” at receiving the honor, 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.
For more on the awards show, visit the official BAFTA website.