LONDON, Feb 16 (Reuters) - The space thriller "Gravity" was crowned the outstanding British film at the UK's top film honours on Sunday, with the harrowing drama "12 Years a Slave" tipped to emerge as the night's major winner.
Hollywood stars including Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, both in tuxedos, descended on London for the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs), which come two weeks before the Academy Awards and are widely seen as indicators of Oscar success.
"Gravity", starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, was leading the field as the evening started with 11 BAFTA nominations, just ahead of "12 Years a Slave" and "American Hustle", each running in 10 categories.
But British director Steve McQueen was tipped for major wins with his unflinching "12 Years a Slave", which has already grabbed a slew of awards and is a hot favourite for the Oscars.
"The biggest thing about this event is being in London town. I was born here ... I am so proud," McQueen, 44, said outside the Royal Opera House on a cold but dry night.
He was joined on the red carpet by a Who's Who of stars including Leonardo DiCaprio, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks and British names Judi Dench, Emma Thompson and Steve Coogan.
Fashion watchers were quick to name 30-year-old Kenyan Lupita Nyong'o best dressed actress for a bright green, shoulderless Dior Couture gown. She was nominated for best supporting actress for her role in "12 Years a Slave".
Britain's Prince William arrived last, chatting to the crowd lined up along the red carpet before heading inside, where he was to present an Academy Fellowship for outstanding contribution to film to the British actress Helen Mirren.
Mirren, 68, won an Oscar for playing his grandmother Queen Elizabeth in the 2006 film "The Queen".
NO DEFYING GRAVITY
The first award of the night, announced by Winfrey, was for the outstanding British film, with "Gravity" beating "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom", "Philomena", "Rush", "Saving Mr Banks" and "The Selfish Giant".
"Gravity" fits that category as it was filmed in the UK with groundbreaking visual effects made in Britain.
Bookmakers expected "12 Years a Slave", based on a true story about a man kidnapped and sold into slavery, to be the big winner of the night, the most closely watched award ceremony outside the United States.
The film was tipped to take four of the major BAFTA categories including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor for Briton Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Best Supporting Actress.
"The odds suggest that "12 Years A Slave" will sweep the boards," bookmaker William Hill's spokesman Rupert Adams said.
The other nominated fims were the 1970s con-men caper "American Hustle", the Somali pirate thriller "Captain Phillips" and the British drama "Philomena", starring Judi Dench as an Irish woman trying to find the son she gave up for adoption.
Vying for the best actor prize alongside Ejiofor were Christian Bale in "American Hustle", Bruce Dern in "Nebraska", DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese's tale of American greed "The Wolf of Wall Street", and Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips".
DiCaprio said it had taken seven years and a lot of luck to get "The Wolf of Wall Street" to the big screens.
"This is the second film in my career that I really got behind and did everything I could to get made. This is a very proud moment for me," he said.
Dench, who garnered a record 15th BAFTA nomination at age 79, is one of five women competing for Best Actress. The bookies' favourite is Cate Blanchett playing a riches-to-rags socialite in Woody Allen's tragicomedy "Blue Jasmine".
Also in the running are Adams from "American Hustle", Emma Thompson in "Saving Mr. Banks" and Bullock in "Gravity". (Editing by Andrew Heavens and Kevin Liffey)