Unlike the endless carousel of Academy Award hosts, the BAFTAs have a reliability and a consistency in compere Stephen Fry that compliments to slightly stiffer affair that differentiates this particular show.
However, the 2017 ceremony opened rather spectacularly unorthodox as the cast of Cirque du Soleil performed a dazzling display in front the glamorous big top-esque setting of this year’s show. Following which Mr. Fry entered the stage and indulged his crowd with usual flattery, blagging a kiss from Meryl Streep in the process. Barring a jab at the Russians over the alleged US election scandal, it was a fairly forgetful opener, though adequately setting the tone for a show that deliberately sets itself apart from its counterparts across the pond.
The BAFTAs tend to throw up a couple of odd results, as the voting favours British production and talent. The adapted screenplay category was evidence of this, as Lion beat off stiff competition to win one of its few awards this season. It later continued its excellent night by giving Dev Patel a huge surprise win in the supporting actor category for his leading role. Touchy point.
Hugh Grant stole the show early on as he presented the award for best supporting actress, perhaps knowing all too well that he would not be returning to the stage collecting his own award. Though his nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins punctuates quite an incredible career u-turn for a former rom-com favourite who all but disappeared for the past few years.
Collecting her award, Viola Davis gave an impassioned speech about African Americans, citing her father as an inspiration, or “the people that didn’t make it in the history, but they have a story; a story that deserved to be told, because they lived”. If Streep’s Golden Globes speech was a standard-bearer for anti-Trump liberals, then Davis’ speech should also be revered as a wonderful, touching and powerful reminder of why diversity matters.
The first major surprise of the night, though Lion‘s win will be considered a hefty disruption of the norm, was in the animated feature category where Kubo and the Two Strings has thrown a major spanner in the works this season. This isn’t the only award it has stolen from under the nose of Disney, so could it go all the way?
This brief ponder was interrupted by the sight a circus act descending from the sky to present the Visual Effects winner in an envelope to presenter Daisy Ridley.
However, the self-deprecating presentation of outstanding debut from Jamie Dornan and Rafe Spall brought proceedings back to a comfortably British tone, and the team from Under the Shadow succeeded this with an adorable speech, delivered with the stuttery innocent nervousness that only someone with absolutely no experience on an awards stage can deliver.
Following a quick run of results that saw Patel’s supporting actor win, compere Stephen Fry took to the stage to introduce the traditional in memorium segment. This year a young musician played a string solo of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah as we remembered the devastating year that was 2016. It was a touching tribute that received the biggest ovation of the night so far.
After a brief segway from Fry, the show returned to normal proceedings before introducing Isabelle Huppert for outstanding contribution to British cinema. “After receiving the BAFTA for promising newcomer, I had no idea I’d be back so soon” quipped the endearing Oscar nominee, who has modestly taken the season by storm and should not be ruled out for leading actress. As Curzon accepted the honorary award, its CEO have a monotonic if not enthusiastic testimony to the power of cinema, though did nothing to promote the art of public speaking.
There had been a few politicised moments throughout the show, mainly some light-hearted comments from Fry. That is until Kenneth Lonergan accepted his award for original screenplay. His anecdote about his 15 year old Daughter protesting against Trump drew an applause, though a notably respectful one and nothing more.
Manchester by the Sea went on to pick up the award for leading actor – one of the most predictable of the night as Casey Affleck has won almost every other award this year.
And then came the late surge in accolades for La La Land. It began with best director, as Damien Chazelle picked up one of his last major awards on the way to becoming the youngest Oscar winning director in history. Next up was Emma Stone, whose momentum has pushed her ahead of both Natalie Portman and Isabelle Huppert in the leading actress race. Finally, it won Best Film, making this one of the most predictable awards seasons this decade. Rightly so, many would argue.
With the award formalities out of the way, the final piece of the night is reserved for the prestigious BAFTA Fellowship, which this year was presented by Prince William to the legendary comedy filmmaker and actor Mel Brooks. It was a standing ovation, but nothing else would do.
Let’s just enjoy some his one-liners that proved just why he deserved this honor:
“I’d like to thank Harvey Weinstein for having nothing to do with this award tonight”
“I don’t think of England as a foreign country. I think of it as a vast Brooklyn that speaks better”
So how did the whole night pan out?
Well as all the other awards were run through at the end – a decision which persistently baffles me – we learn of La La Land‘s five total awards on the night, making it the big winner, while there were also wins for Fantastic Beasts and Jackie among other. Click here for the full list of BAFTA 2017 winners.
Ultimately, the BAFTA telecast never fails to amaze in how it proves, year on year, that brevity in an awards show can sometimes be a bad thing. A three hour telecast would be welcome, but the two hours this year were at once spectacular, surprising and satisfying.
Stephen Fry has become a staple part of the show, but at times it does feel a bit old hat. Could we maybe table Dermot O’Leary as an alternative option next year?