February 20, 2006 09:00 AM

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Reese Witherspoon and, especially, the American Western Brokeback Mountain swept Sunday night’s Orange British Academy Film Awards ceremony in London, leaving the local leading contender, The Constant Gardener, in the dust.

Hoffman was named best actor for his depiction of In Cold Blood author Truman Capote, in Capote. Witherspoon won as best actress for her role as June Carter Cash, the wife and muse of country giant Johnny Cash, in Walk the Line.

Brokeback – which is up for a leading eight Academy Awards at the March 5 Hollywood event – received four BAFTAs: for best picture, best director Ang Lee, best supporting actor Jake Gyllenhaal and best adapted screenplay.

Gyllenhaal, who plays the dreamer Jack Twist in the cowboy romance, said onstage that the movie “means even more to me socially than it does artistically.”

Expanding on that theme backstage, Gyllenhaal told reporters: “I’ve had a lot of people say to me after the film, to my surprise, ‘Thank you for making it.’ It’s made a social impression, and that social impression to me is the aftermath of an artistic impression, and so much more important.”

The movie’s director, Ang Lee, thanked the British people for their support. “I don’t know what makes me so connect to you. I’m pretty sure it’s not the food,” he wisecracked, the Associated Press reports.

British actress Thandie Newton took the best supporting actress award for Crash, which also won the prize for best original screenplay.

The Constant Gardener, a John Le Carré spy tale, went into the evening with 10 nominations, but took only one award, for editing. Memoirs of a Geisha won three awards, for cinematography, music and costume design.

George Clooney, Charlize Theron, Renee Zellweger, Desperate Housewives‘ Felicity Huffman, The O.C.‘s Mischa Barton and Crash star Matt Dillon were cheered by hundreds of fans huddled under ponchos and umbrellas before the ceremony.

Despite three nominations (divided between Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck) Clooney went home empty-handed, though he said he was pleased that political cinema was undergoing a renaissance.

“In our country we hadn’t talked about politics or anything interesting since Watergate,” Clooney said on the red carpet. “Now you go to a coffee shop and people are talking about politics. It’s good.”

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