Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston Kickstart BAFTA Celebrations, Remember Albert Finney

Tom Hiddleston - 2019 - H
Credit: BAFTA

Patrick Stewart, Michelle Yeoh, Jeremy Irons, Joanna Lumley and Jason Isaacs were also on hand at the pre-awards bash in London.

Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Patrick Stewart, Michelle Yeoh, Jeremy Irons and Anna Friel honored the charitable side of BAFTA on Friday night as London began its celebrations in anticipation of Sunday’s film awards with the lavish annual Film Gala, this year at the city’s Savoy Hotel.

Host of the Sunday film ceremony, Joanna Lumley, was showing no nerves ahead of her gig, saying she was "thrilled, looking forward to it so much." Returning for a second year to front the ceremony, Lumley told The Hollywood Reporter, "You don’t have to stress because it’s just me saying, 'Isn’t our industry great and here are the brilliant people in it.'"

The death of actor Albert Finney was fresh on everyone’s mind, with Lumley saying she "adored" him. "We did A Rather English Marriage — I did it with him and Tom Courtenay. I couldn’t have loved him more. He was generous, funny, wise, ridiculously attractive. Everyone adored him, men and women alike. We used to do The Times crossword puzzle together."

Hiddleston also worked with Finney and remembered him fondly. "He was the most kind, the most gracious, the most inspiring actor," Hiddleston said. "It was really my first significant professional acting role, playing Randolph Churchill in The Gathering Storm, in which [Finney] played Winston Churchill. I was 20 years old, very nervous, and he could not have been more charming and helpful, kind and considerate. And he bought me a whiskey afterwards!"

As for the evening’s gala, the aim of which was to raise funds to benefit those wanting to break into the industry, Hiddleston explained how BAFTA does “so much work, often unsung work, about leveling the playing field for everyone, keeping the doors open for everyone no matter where you’re from, whatever background. If you have a story to tell, BAFTA wants to hear from you."

Added Yeoh: "Any opportunity you get to be able to shine the light on a charity is always good. It’s important that we are not just seen to be doing something frivolous or glamorous, but it’s got heart and it’s got soul because I think the movies that we do have heart and soul, so it all ties in."

Change is being seen, claimed Jason Isaacs. "When you work in the industry, and you may not know what BAFTA is doing, but you see around you the landscape is changing in terms of the number of women, people of color and people from different social backgrounds coming through the industry," he said.

After a champagne reception, a Great Gatsby-themed dance opened proceedings with host Claudia Winkleman welcoming onstage recent winners of the BAFTA young presenters’ scheme.

BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry told THR that the evening showcased "a really important event for BAFTA as it raises vital funds for our year-round charitable programs supporting new and emerging talent." Guests were encouraged to pledge their support as well as raising funds by bidding at the night’s charity auction.

Redmayne addressed the room to help increase bids on the offering of a set visit to Fantastic Beasts 3, telling guests how special the wizarding sets are in scale and scope.

Andy Serkis recalled how advice and mentoring early in his career had helped enormously, explaining how his very first job was with a theater director called Jonathan Petherbridge at a community orientated theatre, The Dukes Playhouse in Lancaster

"I was a very young actor, 21 years old just starting out, and he really impressed on me the idea that acting is not a vain activity, it’s a service and people are paying for a service, paying for you to go and research the world, the play or the film or whatever it is, to fully embody that and understand it and to come back and share that information with an audience," he said.

Serkis underlined the theme of the gala, supporting BAFTA’s work in uncovering fresh talent from a range of backgrounds for the film, television and games industries.

It was a sentiment that Noel Clarke (Kidulthood) claimed he embodied in his work, saying how he’s "never not given back from day one." He continued, "From the moment I started out I was finding people like me because there weren’t enough people like me, so I was always finding people who were underrepresented, didn’t have agents, so then I’d help get them agents, helping their careers. I enjoy getting people into this business who wouldn’t traditionally have a chance because that’s what happened to me."

The music for the event included a live performance from Grace Carter during dinner, while Samm Henshaw played a soulful set at the afterparty, enjoyed by guests including Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson.

"You hear about the brilliant causes that BAFTA are able to support, even the Rising Star award," Tomlinson said of the only BAFTA to get a public vote. "I'm rooting for Jessie Buckley, by the way, for that this year! I’ve never met her. I just think she’s great!"