By Estelle Shirbon
LONDON (Reuters) - The cinema spotlight shines on London for the BAFTA awards on Sunday, with silent movie-era romance "The Artist" a hot favorite for best film and Meryl Streep's portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady" poised to win leading actress.
The Artist, a French-made black-and-white film set in Hollywood in the 1920s and 30s, is up for 12 awards, British Cold War espionage thriller "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" has 11 nominations and Martin Scorsese's 3-D adventure "Hugo" has nine.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards are not always an accurate predictor of what is to come at the Oscars, but they are the most coveted film honors outside of the United States.
The Artist, the story of a star of silent movies whose career is destroyed by the advent of "talkies," has already won big at the Golden Globes and a good night at the BAFTAs would give it a further lift two weeks ahead of the Academy Awards.
Bookmakers William Hill gave The Artist odds of 1/6 to win the best film BAFTA, far ahead of Tinker Tailor. The other contenders are "The Descendants," "Drive" and "The Help."
British film "My Week with Marilyn," set during the filming of the 1957 comedy "The Prince and the Showgirl" with Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier, could make an impression.
It is nominated for six awards, including outstanding British film and best actress for Michelle Williams, who plays a troubled but intoxicating Monroe. Kenneth Branagh, who plays Olivier, could win a supporting actor BAFTA.
CLOONEY VS OLDMAN
Streep was the 2/7 favorite in the leading actress category, comfortably ahead of Viola Davis, her nearest rival, who plays a maid facing discrimination in Civil Rights drama The Help.
Completing the line-up are Berenice Bejo as an up-and-coming actress in The Artist, Williams as Monroe in My Week with Marilyn and Tilda Swinton as the traumatized mother of a teenage killer in "We Need To Talk About Kevin."
With a Golden Globe already in the handbag, Streep has won plaudits for her portrayal of the former British prime minister, whom she plays both as a firebrand Conservative leader at the height of her power and as a frail elderly woman suffering from memory loss.
Reviews of The Iron Lady have been lukewarm in Thatcher's home country. The choice to dwell on the subject of her dementia has been criticized, not least by current British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is also a Conservative.
In the leading actor category, George Clooney is favored to win the BAFTA for his role as a man steering his family through troubled times while his wife is in a coma in "The Descendants."
Clooney faces a strong challenge from Gary Oldman, who plays the British spy George Smiley in Tinker Tailor, an adaptation of a classic thriller by novelist John Le Carre. The other nominees are Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Brad Pitt ("Moneyball") and Michael Fassbender ("Shame").
Hugo, which has done well on the U.S. awards circuit, is Scorsese's first family movie. Set in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, it explores the magic of the early days of movie-making. Scorsese is also nominated for his documentary "George Harrison: Living in the Material World."
However his two movies fare at the BAFTAs, Scorsese will not leave London empty-handed after the ceremony at the Royal Opera House. He will receive a BAFTA Fellowship celebrating his life in cinema.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)