February 12, 2004 10:44 AM

Russell Crowe may not be British, but London critics still loved his “Master and Commander,” as the seafaring adventure took top honors Wednesday at the London Film Critics Circle awards, PEOPLE reports.

“Master,” set during the Napoleonic wars, nailed wins for best film, best British actor (Paul Bettany) and best screenwriter (John Collee and director Peter Weir).

But Bettany, 33, who played opposite Crowe, admitted to PEOPLE that he would rather be home “playing with his kid.” (Bettany had a son with his wife, actress Jennifer Connelly, last year.)

The evening also proved a good one for “Love Actually,” too. Emma Thompson was named best British actress in a supporting role, and Bill Nighy was recognized for his supporting role as Billy Mack — a fading rock ‘n’ roll star who makes a comeback on the strength of artistically bereft Christmas song.

Nighy, embodying the Billy Mack persona, growled to reporters, “I feel like a million bucks!”

It probably wasn’t actual love, but Thompson softened her opinion of movie critics following her win.

“I’m used to thinking of critics as vaguely sadistic,” the 44-year-old actress said. “Now I realize that they are pretty naturally loving and intelligent, and I will love them forever without reservation.”

There were some surprises at the show. Despite being an odds-on favorite for the Oscar Best Picture award, “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” was ignored by British critics. Meanwhile, best director honors went to Clint Eastwood for “Mystic River.”

The London Film Critics’ Circle awards comes less than a week before the Baftas (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), the British equivalent of the Oscars, which will be held Sunday.

Back in the U.S., the Oscars will be handed out Feb. 29.

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