From left to right, Robert Wade, Sam Mendes, Barbara Broccoli, Michael G Wilson and Neal Purvis celebrate Outstanding British Film award for Skyfall at the British Academy of Film and Arts awards ceremony at the Royal Opera House in London on Sunday.

London - The James Bond movie Skyfall beat the musical Les Miserables to win the Bafta award for outstanding British film on Sunday, a rare joy for 007 fans who feel the Martini-loving spy has been long overdue for a major trophy.

Judi Dench, who plays spymaster M in Skyfall, leapt out of her seat with a cry of surprise when the award was announced, kicking off the annual Baftas ceremony at the Royal Opera House in London.

“We all had very high expectations for the film and I think it's fair to say all of them have been exceeded, and this really is the icing on the cake,” said Sam Mendes, the film's director.

Skyfall has become the most successful film in British box office history, but ahead of the ceremony the odds had been on Les Miserables to win. The Bond franchise has a long history of awards disappointments.

In the early categories, Skyfall also took the award for original music, while Les Miserables, the film version of a global hit stage musical, won the awards for sound and for make-up and hair.

Ang Lee's Life Of Pi, about a man and a tiger lost at sea, won the Bafta for best cinematography while Quentin Tarantino won the original screenplay award for his slavery-era Western Django Unchained.

Christoph Waltz walked away with the best supporting actor award for his role in the Tarantino movie.

With most of the major awards yet to come, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln and Ben Affleck's Argo looked set to compete for the most prestigious statuettes.

Daniel Day-Lewis was the favourite to win best actor for the title role in Lincoln, a biopic of US President Abraham Lincoln, while the odds were on Argo, a drama about the rescue of American hostages from Iran in 1979, to win best film.

The other contenders for the top honour are Lincoln, Les Miserables, Life Of Pi and Zero Dark Thirty.

Les Mis, as it is popularly known in Britain, has been a huge box office hit and fans sang songs from the film at Hugh Jackman, one of its stars, as he walked the red carpet in the rain.

The best director category was full of heavy hitters including Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow, nominated for Zero Dark Thirty, her thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

They will be up against Austria's Michael Haneke, nominated for Amour, a French-language film about an elderly couple struggling to cope with the aftermath of a stroke.

French actress Emanuelle Riva, 85, is nominated for the leading actress Bafta for her role in Amour. Her rivals for the award are Helen Mirren in Hitchcock, Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty and Marion Cotillard in Rust And Bone.

Mirren surprised red carpet fans by appearing with bright pink hair, which she said was in aid of the fight against breast cancer.

The contenders for best actor are Day-Lewis, Affleck in Argo, Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master.

Versatile British director Alan Parker, whose body of work ranges from musical gangster film Bugsy Malone to Turkish-set prison thriller Midnight Express and civil rights drama Mississippi Burning, will receive a Bafta fellowship.

“It's nice because I'm the only one who knows they are going to win an award,” Parker told Reuters on the red carpet.

“Everybody is more nervous than me. It's a sign I'm getting old. Next it's a memorial service.” - Reuters