10 Must-See Moments From the 2013 Britannia Awards

George Clooney catches up with Benedict Cumberbatch at the BAFTA LA Britannias Awards. (Photo via Bonnie Burton Twitter)

George Clooney catches up with Benedict Cumberbatch at the BAFTA LA Britannias Awards. (Photo via Bonnie Burton Twitter)

The Britannia Awards were held last night in Los Angeles, and we live-tweeted them. Host Rob Brydon quipped that the event was like an “Iraqi election” in that “everyone knows they’ve won before the evening started.” Perhaps that helped contribute to the relaxed atmosphere. Part Kennedy Center Honors, part Golden Globes-like soirée, and part celebrity roast, the Britannias were a blast this year for several big reasons. (You can watch the ceremony tonight [November 8] at 9/8c on BBC AMERICA.) Here are 10.

1. Rob Brydon as host
Judd Apatow, presenting for Sacha Barton Cohen, praised Brydon in an aside, saying, “You should host the Oscars. Why do they always have an American do it?” And he’s right. This witty Welshman is perfect. Self-deprecating without being obsequious, edgy without being caustic, he kept the proceedings moving with a deft touch and a feel for the room. And not only were his Anthony Hopkins and Michael Caine (naturally) impressions spot-on, but he proved a not-bad vocalist in his attempt at Hugh Jackman-style warbling. Brydon, renowned back home and among Anglophiles for The Trip and Gavin & Stacey, should be a better-known commodity in the States.

2. Judd Apatow’s presentation for Sacha Baron Cohen
Unlike Brydon, Apatow is famous in these parts, much more for his writing and directing of adult film comedies these days than his stand-up. But, man, was Apatow a crowd-pleaser last night: he mused about Baron Cohen winning the Charlie Chaplin Britannia for Excellence in Comedy for the year—without having released a single film in 2013. “He had the same output this year as Don Knotts, except he’s been dead since 2006.” Apatow is a bold comedian whose humor more than set up his friend’s show-stopping “monologue”…

3. Sacha Baron Cohen’s wheelchair stunt
Charlie Chaplin. An old lady in a wheelchair. Salma Hayek showing off her skills as a straightwoman. An audience initially questioning the situation, then buying into it, then shrieking in horror before erupting in peals of laughter than went on for 10 minutes straight. That’s as much information as I’ll give so as not to ruin the effect, but rest assured—Sacha Baron Cohen killed in his acceptance speech last night. Possibly literally.

UPDATED – watch the video below:

4. Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s budding bromance
There are few British actors as “hot” right now as these two, and it makes sense that the talented pair, who co-starred in the Oscar-buzzed 12 Years a Slave, would engage in a mutual lovefest. But Benedict Cumberbatch won the Gracious Acceptance Award of the night, but turning to his presenter Ejiofor and saying, “It feels odd to accept British Artist of the Year after what you did in 12 Years a Slave.” P.S.: Cumberbatch also paid tribute to his actor parents, saying that his award “will end up on my mom’s mantelpiece. She’s a very strong-willed woman.” Basically, Benedict made the kind of speech that encourages voting academies to give him more opportunities to make speeches.

5. Kathryn Bigelow’s acceptance speech
Bigelow won a filmmaking award named after the legendary Midnight Cowboy director John Schlesinger. While most directors are expected to be incorrigible taskmasters (read: jerks), it was telling to watch how much presenters Jennifer Ehle and Ralph Fiennes palpably adored Bigelow. Ehle, who worked with Bigelow in Zero Dark Thirty, greeted the director with the sweetest embrace, while Fiennes, never a smiley face, beamed appreciatively while his Strange Days director gave her speech.

6. Sigourney Weaver presentation for Sir Ben Kingsley
Ever the saucy one, Sigourney recalled her role opposite Sir Ben in Roman Polanski‘s Death and the Maiden, in which she subjected the actor to some S&M-type torture. “I tied him to a chair, gagged him—for you Brits, that’s just foreplay.” And she wins for best closing line in her speech, relaying a story about one of Sir Ben’s hidden talents. “A British impresario tried to mold you into a pop star. A pop star! That something we haven’t seen Sir Ben do. You’ve been holding out on us. I’m going to have to discipline you for that later.”

7. Sir Ben Kingsley’s speech
You could hear the proverbial pin drop during Sir Ben’s eloquent address to the crowd, which he dedicated to up-and-coming thespians. “My dear young actors, I know how difficult it is to be you,” before taking off on a poetic, expertly delivered monologue. You could feel the respect the audience had for Kingsley. As his presenter and House of Sand and Fog co-star Shohreh Aghdashloo put it, “I can now call myself an actress because I worked with Sir Ben Kingsley.”

8. Idris Elba winning the Humanitarian award
If you could possibly be irritated by the perfection of Idris Elba, winner of the Humanitarian Britannia, get ready to become enraged. The dude is as funny and as humble as they come. His presenter Sean Penn clearly has strong affection for him, joking that Elba represented a “unique dichotomy. He’s manly and English.” (It was Britannia Bromance of the Night, Part 2). From his warm imitation of his immigrant parents’ bemusement at his career choices to his unabashed love for his London brethren, he is likable in his day-to-day persona as he is intimidating in his most emotionally brutal roles.

9. Julia Roberts
There’s a running theme this evening, in that the Britannias made me realize why I fell in love with some of these actors in the first place. Presenting for her pal George Clooney, Julia rolled out on stage in a wheelchair (in a nod to Sacha Baron Cohen’s stunt) and larked about in her bare feet. She quipped about Clooney’s boys Brad Pitt and Matt Damon not being available and made light of Clooney’s reputed ladies’ man rep. She reminded us of the luminosity of her best roles—that mile-wide grin, that tomboyish earthiness, the mischievous humor.

10. George Clooney’s speech
Followers of pop culture since the Reagan era have seen Clooney emerge from his long-haired recurring days on The Facts of Life to Thursday night heartthrob on ER to the Oscar-winning actor/writer/director/institution he’s become. Clooney made a speech that was all about his lifelong journey, the trial and error that led to success, and illustrated that with an anecdote about a job he had years ago, working in a shoe store measuring women’s feet (accounting for corns). “I rather famously don’t have children,” he said, adding with a wink to a laughing Julia Roberts, “not that I know of,” before finishing, “but I do have a family. And it’s a family of actors and directors and of writers, and, god forbid, agents and studios and journalists. People who love what they do.”

Bonus
Olivia Lee, British comedian, turned it out as BBC AMERICA’s red carpet host, charming Cumberbatch and winning a kiss from George Clooney. And she was my partner-in-crime for the evening, resulting in this tweet, a tour-de-force of double-fisting:

Oh and then there was this from our Anglo Fan Favorites Woman of 2013, Ms. Alex Kingston. As Julia Roberts once said, “I love my life.”

See more:
WATCH: ‘The Book Thief’s’ Emily Watson on Power of Words in Dark Times
Six Questions with Britannias Red Carpet Host Olivia Lee

Kevin Wicks

Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.

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