Attempts to woo younger viewers and disastrous chat show interludes doomed the new-look Baftas
Disastrous double act: presenters Richard E Grant and Alison Hammond CREDIT: Stuart Wilson/BAFTA/Getty
The British Academy Film Awards (BBC One) wasn’t so much a box office blockbuster as a primetime turkey. Attempts to drag it into the 21st century with a new-look show were more embarrassing than Austin Butler’s accent. By the end, even those golden mask gongs were grimacing.
The problems began with co-hosts Richard E Grant and Alison Hammond - the most unlikely pairing since Samantha Fox and Mick Fleetwood at the Brit Awards. Grant nervously compèred, while This Morning’s Hammond conducted inane backstage interviews. These segments were supposed to strike a similar tone to Strictly Come Dancing’s “Clauditorium” visits. If only. Her stilted sofa chats instead recalled The One Show. Flitting back and forth to an airless studio caused any atmosphere inside London’s Royal Festival Hall to instantly dissipate.
Proceedings didn’t start well. Grant’s Skype call skit with Steve Martin was interminable and low on laughs. Once he arrived onstage, Grant was so jittery that he called himself “toast” rather than “host”. The much-loved actor vowed to be celebratory, rather than dispensing Ricky Gervais-style “roastings”. Combined with all the gushing speeches, it meant an overload of earnestness. Some luvvie-skewering wit would have been welcome. There was goodwill for Grant, not least when he choked up introducing the In Memoriam montage, but he can be filed alongside predecessors Joanna Lumley and Rebel Wilson as a misfire.
In previous years, the annual pit stop en route to the Oscars has been televised on a two-hour delay. This awkward gap meant that fans already knew the results and were dissecting them on social media before the broadcast even got underway. The solution here was a hybrid format. The opening 100 minutes were pre-recorded and lightly edited before we switched to real time for the home stretch. A pregnant pause aside, the transition was fairly seamless, yet it felt like a halfway house. Why not go fully live and embrace the frisson of unpredictability?
This ceremony came by royal appointment. Not only were the Prince and Princess of Wales in attendance but Dame Helen Mirren, who portrayed Queen Elizabeth II on stage and screen, paid tribute to the late monarch. Her Majesty was a tireless supporter of British film and received an honorary Bafta in 2013, so this felt fitting. However, the unnecessary piano accompaniment to Mirren’s speech was distracting and mawkish.
Helen Mirren endures Alison Hammond's sofa purgatory CREDIT: Antony Jones/BAFTA/Getty
Awards shows might be an increasingly moribund format but do still throw up memorable moments, be they slaps or mishaps. Pinocchio’s Gregory Mann and Charlotte Wells, writer-director of Aftersun, both tripped and nearly faceplanted as they made their way onstage. Jamie Lee Curtis and Martin McDonagh were far funnier than the hosts. The Banshees of Inisherin’s Barry Keoghan and costume design doyenne Sandy Powell proved popular, heartwarming winners.
The bid to attract younger viewers continued with girl-powered pop performances from West Side Story’s Ariana DeBose and rapper Little Simz. The latter impressed but where was the filmic connection? Similarly, what was Geri “Ginger Spice” Horner doing there? Spiceworld: The Movie was a quarter of a century ago.
For a two-hour show, precious time was wasted. It was 20 minutes before the first prize was handed out. Shortlist montages were overlong. Slow walks to the podium ate up airtime. Speeches rambled. Cutaways to expanses of empty seats in the hall didn’t help. The biggest crime, however, was Hammond’s daytime-style small talk squeezing out entire awards.
TV ratings for backslapping showbiz bashes have been in steady decline. The Baftas gamely tried to reinvent itself, but did it deserve to monopolise two hours of the Sunday night schedules, annoying Antiques Roadshow and Call the Midwife fans in the process? No. A least it finished on time, which is more than can be said for its American equivalents.