Homegrown experimentalism reigned supreme at the London Critics’ Circle awards, which gave its top honours to Jonathan Glazer’s radical Holocaust film, The Zone of Interest – and an equal number to Andrew Haigh’s devastating ghost romance, All of Us Strangers.
The Zone of Interest, about the domestic idyll constructed by Hedwig and Rudolph Höss next door to Auschwitz, where he was camp commandant, won best picture and best director.
Glazer thanked critics, audiences, his colleagues, “and most of all my wife, as it’s all about her at the end of the day anyway”.
His producer, James Wilson, said he believed the question posed by the film “boils down” to one of “selective empathy: whether we care more about the health and safety and violence against some innocent people than others. It seems so stark in the world [today] that that is not the case.”
Wilson continued by saying he hoped it went without saying that people in “Ukraine and south Israel” are “as deserving of empathy as those in Gaza or Yemen or anywhere”.
The film also took the technical achievement prize for music and sound, awarded to Mica Levi and Johnnie Burn for their extraordinary soundtrack, which seeks to convey the unseen horrors behind the camp walls.
Speaking to the audience, Levi also related the film to the current conflict in the Middle East. “Working on this film continues to be monumental for me, and is starting to be for my friends,” they said. “The time we are in can’t be ignored. I wish for a ceasefire – as I’m sure we all do – and for some change.”
Meanwhile, All of Us Strangers, in which Andrew Scott plays a screenwriter who embarks on a new relationship at the same time reuniting with his long-dead parents, took the Attenborough award for British/Irish film of the year, as well as best actor for Scott.
Speaking to the audience, Scott said: “This is completely wonderful … it just launched our film in the most extraordinary way, and it’s made a difference.”
He nodded to the film’s position at the top of the Irish box office, and it also having made No 1 in the UK, too. “For a gay love story, it ain’t nothing,” he said. “Don’t say those films don’t make money.”
He went on to thank his co-stars Claire Foy and Jamie Bell, “my sexy mum and dad”, and the “also sexy” Paul Mescal, before thanking Haigh for allowing him to be part of a film which has elicited such emotional reactions. “Never in my life have I had such heartfelt, raw responses from audiences.”
Scott finished by paying tearful tribute to his own mother and father, “who I’ve thought about every day”.
Accepting the film of the year award, Haigh thanked critics for being “so generous with the film” and “connecting to it in really personal ways”.
Mescal won British/Irish Performer for his body of work in 2023; the actor has also appeared over the past 12 months in God’s Creatures, Foe and Carmen. Thanking the voters for having helped “films like [Strangers]” which “need to be seen”, he singled out Scott and Haigh, saying that working on the film “was one of the privileges of my life”.
While The Zone of Interest is in contention for five Oscars next month, All of Us Strangers was not nominated in a single category. And while both films are up for Baftas, All of Us Strangers’ six nominations do not include a nod for Scott – an omission which met with considerable backlash.
Meanwhile, best actress went to Emma Stone for Poor Things, consolidating her narrow lead over Killers of the Flower Moon’s Lily Gladstone in the Oscars’ race. Da’Vine Joy Randolph won best supporting actress for The Holdovers, repeating the win she has so far managed in every awards ceremony so far this season.
However, there was a surprise in the supporting actor category, which went to Charles Melton for May December.
The sweep of honours for Glazer and Haigh’s films meant Oppenheimer – hotly tipped to sweep the Oscars – went home without a single award, as did Barbie and Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon.
Justine Triet and Arthur Harari took the screenwriting award for Anatomy of a Fall, while Mstyslav Chernov accepted the documentary prize for 20 Days in Mariupol. Speaking to the crowd, Chernov said he believed “cinema has the power to change history and how people will see our time, and maybe make better choices”.
Both The Zone of Interest and Anatomy of a Fall lost out to Celine Song’s Past Lives for foreign-language film of the year, while Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron won the animated film prize.
Oscar-nominated Jeffrey Wright was presented with the Dilys Powell Award for Excellence in Film by his American Fiction director Cord Jefferson. Meanwhile, Wright’s rival Colman Domingo took the inaugural Derek Malcolm Award for Innovation, named for the late Guardian film critic.
How to Have Sex won two awards: international breakthrough performance for Mia McKenna-Bruce and Philip French Award for British/Irish breakthrough film-maker for writer/director Molly Manning Walker.
Other winners included Lola Campbell, who won young performer for Scrapper, and Natalie Cubides-Brady, director of short film The Veiled City.
The London Critics’ Circle is the UK’s longest-standing critics’ organisation, with 210 members. It is one of the last remaining awards ceremonies before the Baftas in a fortnight. These are followed, three weeks later on 10 March, by this year’s Oscars.