Fiona Mountford

Why BAFTA has shunned the Oscars A-list

Why BAFTA has shunned the Oscars A-list
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attend the 2019 BAFTAS (Getty)
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Last week, the nominations for the BAFTA film awards were announced and very swiftly afterwards the annual chorus of lamentation started up. For whatever poor old BAFTA does, a vocal segment of film fans and critics alike will declare themselves unhappy. BAFTAs-bashing, it can often seem, is how those in cultural circles like to keep themselves warm and entertained in the darkest and dullest months of the year. As if that weren’t enough, hot on BAFTA’s sweaty heels come the Oscar nominations, providing the opportunity to grumble on an international scale.

As recently as 2020, grave accusations of ‘whitewashing’ were levelled at the British Academy, when it somehow managed to locate not one actor of colour worthy of nomination in the four acting categories. This is not the problem for the 2022 iteration; three of the six nominees for Best Actor, for example, are non-white and the favourite in that race is Will Smith for his powerhouse performance as the phenomenally driven man-with-a-plan Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Venus and Serena. Women, another perennial problem for award ceremonies of all kinds, are also in abundance this year, with a staggering three out of six entries on the Best Director shortlist proudly not men. Given that all-male Best Director line-ups were so much the norm for decades (as they were at the Oscars) that they usually passed without comment, this marks a seismic leap of improvement. Although it is a touch peculiar that the film many critics named as their favourite of the year, The Souvenir Part II, directed by the very British, very female Joanna Hogg, has garnered not one single nod in any category.

Was Spencer deliberately snubbed? (Image: Kirsten Stewart as Diana)

So given that BAFTA’s recent diversity drive looks to be bearing rich fruits, where are this year’s grumbles coming from? Those who like a bit of red carpet glamour, with big stars in big frocks dodging the inevitable London rain on the red carpet, are sniping about the relative anonymity of this year’s line-up. With 19 out of the 24 names in the acting sections first-time nominees, there will be a lot of unfamiliar faces come awards day on 13 March. 

It is notable-going-on astonishing that the Best Actress line-up for the BAFTAs and Oscars contains not one single overlap. Hollywood has, perhaps unsurprisingly, played it fairly straight, erring on the side of big names in showy, sometimes shallow (I’m looking at you, Jessica Chastain) performances. Nicole Kidman, with her strong yet restrained work as Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos, will be at the Oscars but not the BAFTAs. The same applies to Kristen Stewart for her marvellously vulnerable portrayal of Princess Diana in Spencer. One assumes it is coincidental that BAFTA’s president is none other than Prince William. Oddest of all, however, is the curious case of Olivia Colman. Oscar has rightly chosen to recognise her turn as a conflicted mother in The Lost Daughter; for my money this is even finer than her work in The Favourite, a role for which she deservedly won her Oscar. Yet BAFTA has bafflingly chosen to omit this homegrown superstar. The perplexing same goes for British star Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick… Boom!) in the Best Actor category, with a ‘no, thanks’ from BAFTA and a ‘yes, please’ from the Oscars.

What is particularly ironic about the current lamentation for lost lustre is the fact that another accusation commonly levelled against the BAFTAs has been that they are too slavishly starstruck. In 1998 BAFTA’s film awards underwent a conscious uncoupling from their television counterparts – the collisions between Hollywood and Hollyoaks were becoming increasingly awkward – and in 2001 they were tactically shunted a couple of months forward in the year. This allowed them to bag a prime position in the film awards season calendar, two juicy weeks in advance of the Oscars. By setting themselves up as the opening salvo in a heavyweight double whammy from the anglophone world, the BAFTAs cleverly enhanced their prestige and clout almost overnight. The collateral damage from this move was inevitably going to be an enhanced focus on Hollywood fare and as recently as a couple of years ago there were wails that the BAFTAs were too dutifully replicating the (heavily American) shortlists for the likes of the Golden Globes, rather than promoting homegrown product.

Joanna Scanlan in After Love

Yet while Kidman, Colman, Stewart et all won’t need to worry about press intrusion in London on March 13th, Joanna Scanlan will. This stalwart of British comedy was phenomenal as a grieving widow in low-budget Brit flick After Love and has rightly been rewarded with a Best Actress nomination. (Director Aleem Khan also makes it onto that respective shortlist). Surely this welcome act of public recognition for Scanlan will mean that many more people will seek out this little-seen gem? The same applies to Adeel Akhtar’s Best Actor nod for Clio Barnard’s Ali and Ava and Stephen Graham for restaurant-set nail-biter Boiling Point. That makes three lesser known British stars being snugly placed in the spotlight by their home awards – isn’t that exactly what the BAFTAs are meant to do?

There have been a few grumbles that the latest Bond film, No Time to Die, didn’t make it onto the Best Film list, instead being dumped into the celluloid boondocks of Outstanding British Film (where it will likely lose out to Kenneth Branagh’s insipid Belfast). My only (printable) response to this, apart from ‘Get a good editor next time around and cut 45 minutes off the running time’ would be politely to point out that the Bond franchise will probably just about manage to struggle on regardless.

Nevertheless, all those column inches about Bond’s omission will serve a higher purpose and that is to shine a welcome spotlight onto (British) film and remind us that a trip to the cinema remains one of life’s most profound pleasures. After our – and indeed the cinema’s – struggles during the pandemic, this is an immensely valuable point to be made, this year of all years. Roll on red carpet time.

The BAFTAS will be broadcast on 13 March.