The 27 year old was recognised for his roles in Never Let Me Go and The Social Network, putting an end to Firth’s monopoly of the awards season for his turn as King George VI in The King’s Speech.
In a filmed message, Garfield told the crowd at the London Film Museum, “I really, really appreciate it and intend to let this spur me and provide more fuel for my fire”.
Meanwhile, Kristin Scott Thomas was named the Best Actress for her part in French film Leaving, in which she plays a married woman who has an affair with a builder.
Filmmaker Peter Mullan’s drama Neds, about violent youths in 1970s Scotland, won Best Film, beating Mike Leigh’s Another Year and animated movie The Illusionist.
Other winners included Roger Allam, who accepted the Peter Sellers Comedy Award for his portrayal of a cheating writer in Tamara Drewe, and Gareth Edwards, who received a technical achievement trophy for his low-budget sci-fi movie Monsters.
Inception director Christopher Nolan was honoured for his contribution to cinema with the The Alexander Walker Special Award, named after the Evening Standard’s late film critic.