BRITISH star Daniel Day-Lewis stole the Oscars limelight as he became the first man to claim three best actor Academy Awards.
Although he still has one to go to match Katharine Hepburn’s four best actress awards, the London-born star edged ahead of such acting legends as Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman.
He laughed off the “greatest ever actor” plaudits after the ground-breaking recognition for his role in the US presidential epic Lincoln.
However, the film was at the centre of an upset, after Steven Spielberg was snubbed for the best director Oscar in favour of Ang Lee for Life of Pi.
Ben Affleck’s thriller Argo, set in revolutionary Iran, won the best picture prize, which was presented by surprise guest Michelle Obama, via videolink from the White House.
Life of Pi also won the best adapted screenplay prize, for Chris Terrio.
The other big British winners on the night were singer Adele, for the Bond theme Skyfall, which won best song, and a string of awards for Les Misérables, including Anne Hathaway for best supporting actress.
Disney-Pixar’s Brave, set in the Scottish Highlands, with an all-star Scottish cast, won best animated feature. It had been the closing gala screening at last year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival.
In the other big acting awards, Jennifer Lawrence was crowned best actress for her role in Silver Linings Playbook, while Christoph Waltz was crowned best supporting actor for Django Unchained.
Lawrence drew a sympathetic ovation from the Los Angeles audience after tripping on her dress on the way to collect her trophy.
Day-Lewis, who was born in London but lives in Ireland, was previously honoured by the Academy of Motion Pictures for My Left Foot in 1990 and There Will Be Blood five years ago.
He was presented with his award by another triple Oscar-winner, Meryl Streep – although one of her awards had been in the best supporting actress category.
In his acceptance speech, Day-Lewis, 55, said: “I really don’t know how any of this happened. I do know I’ve received much more than my fair share of good fortune in my life.”
Day-Lewis, who is renowned for immersing himself in his roles, also thanked his wife, Rebecca Miller, daughter of the playwright Arthur Miller, for having lived with “some very strange men” he had embodied during their 16-year marriage. “They were strange as individuals and probably even stranger if taken as a group,” he said
“But luckily she’s the versatile one in the family and she’s been the perfect companion to all of them.”
However, it could be some time before Day-Lewis mounts a bid to match Hepburn’s record haul of Oscars in the main acting categories.
Speaking backstage after collecting the Oscar, he said he had no current plans to make another film after Lincoln.
He added: “I can’t think of anyone right now, because I need to lie down for a couple of years. It’s really hard to imagine doing anything after this.”
Asked whether he would celebrate his win the Irish or the British way, he replied diplomatically: “I’m happy with either one, personally. I guess I’ll do it LA-style.”
Meanwhile, London-born Adele, who had already won a Golden Globe for Skyfall’s theme song, was tearful as she thanked the Bond producers and her co-writer Paul Epworth, who collected the award alongside her.
Adele, who also performed the song on the night, said: “Thank you so much. This is amazing.”
The award for costume design went to Briton Jacqueline Durran for Anna Karenina, who described the win as “completely overwhelming” and paid tribute to her children, who were “fast asleep in England”.
Director Quentin Tarantino, who won the original screenplay prize for Django Unchained, adding to the Oscars he won for writing and directing Pulp Fiction in 1994, said: “I have to cast the right people to make those characters come alive, and boy this time did I do it.”
Argo’s director and star Ben Affleck paid tribute to the “genius” of Spielberg.
Referring to his early success with the Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting, he said: “I never thought I would be back here and I am because of so many of you who are here tonight.
“It doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life, all that matters is that you get up.”
British film-maker Simon Chinn won the best documentary Oscar for Searching for Sugarman, about what happened to a once-famous South African rock singer, Sixto Rodriguez.