Alicia Vikander commented recently that awards season is like "celebrating the same person's birthday." If that's the case, then the BAFTAs, supposedly the most important night of the British film industry's year, is the fancy dinner with the parents where everyone's on their best behaviour. It took place on Sunday night at the Royal Opera House, extravagant to the last, but ultimately too well stage-managed and far too good at avoiding anything that may be branded controversial to be of any interest at all.
Eddie Redmayne, the suave older brother in this scenario, seemed to dominate the evening, despite not winning an award. Eton-educated, knowing exactly how to behave at a soiree, he's the perfect poster boy for the modern BAFTAs. Even journalists, allowed for one night to be on the fun side of the VIP rope, were seen posing for mock-hysterical selfies with Redmayne. Fans screamed his name over and over. "Please sign my autograph," one very audibly cried as he carried on talking to an interviewer. "I've been waiting here for hours."
Most stars took their cue from Redmayne: camera-ready, media-trained, experts at the non-quote quote. There was a vanishingly small but audible #BaftasBlackout protest from the Creatives of Colour group. (John Boyega, Peckham-born son of a preacher and childhood friend of Damilola Taylor, and Idris Elba, native of Dagenham, were the only non-white faces to be nominated this year.) Creatives of Colour handed out flyers and unfurled a banner calling the film business "male, pale and stale". They called for a quota system, chanting that those on the inside were "scared of diversity". No one seemed to take much notice, and they were cordoned off by a security presence at the northern edges of Covent Garden.
The fact is that the film industry, despite its best liberal intentions, is a historically racist, patriarchal bun fight, defined by nepotism and insider-access. A recent survey by the trade magazine Screen found that, of the 75 the most prominent film companies in the UK industry today, all were led by white people. Only a tiny amount had a black, Asian, or ethnic minority executive in their senior management. The BFI, BBC and Channel 4, recipients of public money for filmmaking, provide the lion's share of funding for these companies. Journalists, in search of talking points, can try and make a stink, but it feels like a losing game.
To exacerbate the staid feeling ever further, the BAFTAs have been bought to the hilt by sponsorship. Even host Stephen Fry was furiously tweeting about the #EEBaftas. The night seems designed to be narrow in its ambition, shaved of its edges so as not to offend a brand, covered in a Best of British triumphalism so sticky it's asphyxiating. Just to drive it home, the broadcasters gave themselves a two-hour lag, rather than airing the ceremony live on BBC1. By that time, of course, the winners had been tweeted to the moon and back, and everything of even remote interest had been edited out.
Fry is in his 15th year of presenting, and was his usual avuncular, ever-so-slightly racy self – everyone's fun distant relative, now only seen at weddings and funerals, more and more in need of an earlier night. He proceeded to attempt the Orwellian "KissCam" - a very obvious attempt, like DeGeneres' Oscar selfie, to make BAFTAs go viral. You can picture the creative agency strategy meetings in your mind.
Leo rudely avoided the octogenarian lips of Maggie Smith when the KissCam landed on them, grabbing her in a bicep curl and bear muzzle to the neck, as if he might, somewhere in his mind, still be fighting Tom Hardy on a snowy mountainside. Julianne Moore was properly ambushed by Bryan Cranston. Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, a real couple who are famously very private, refused to play game when the camera landed on them. This was edited out in the televised version, apparently too awkward for the Sunday night viewer to handle.
Ultimately, the BAFTAs took place without a headline to muster. Even the awards went where they were expected: The Revenant, Leo, and Brie Larson all picking up the gongs they were favourites to win. It was all over in time for Eddie Redmayne to get the bus home.
On we march to the Oscars, to the eagle-eyed scrutiny of yet more suits and dresses, more pre-rehearsed acceptance speeches (The Academy are now asking to pre-screen 'thank you' lists), to more moments engineered only to be shared the world over. The hope of something spontaneous happening has been forever lost in a thousand hashtags.
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