While Chernobyl became a record-breaker, there were some significant surprises at the Virgin Media Bafta Television Awards 2020, which were held in a Covid-safe form over the weekend. DQ spoke to some of the winners.
For the cast and crew of Sky and HBO coproduction Chernobyl, the awards keep on coming. In addition to the seven prizes it received at the Bafta Television Craft Awards a fortnight ago, the production’s two wins at Friday night’s Virgin Media Bafta Television Awards mean the compelling five-part drama has won more Baftas than any other show in a single year.
Produced by Sister, The Mighty Mint and Word Games, the show about the 1986 nuclear meltdown was named best miniseries on Friday night, with star Jared Harris claiming the best actor award. This came after it picked up craft wins for director: fiction, editing: fiction, costume design, original music, photography & lighting: fiction, production design and sound: fiction. Chernobyl has now won a total of 60 awards since it aired in May 2019, including two Golden Globes and 10 Primetime Emmys.
But though Chernobyl might have been the runaway favourite, there were plenty of surprises in store during the socially distanced ceremony, which had been delayed by the Coronavirus pandemic and saw nominees taking part remotely. As the awards were announced, DQ spoke to some of the winners in the scripted categories about their work.
Leading actor: Jared Harris, Chernobyl
The two wins completed a record-breaking year for Chernobyl, in which Harris play Valery Legasov, who led the investigation into the nuclear disaster.
Craig Mazin, creator and writer: “There were two things I drew upon initially. One was the firm belief that I did not want to tell a disaster-movie version of this. The disaster itself is not what’s fascinating, but how people precipitate disasters, how they respond to them and how the worst of our human instincts can create them and the most noble aspects of our spirit are what’s required to defeat them.
“I also wanted to start with both my hero dying and the reactor exploding. We don’t live in a time where you can go four or five weeks and have people be surprised in episode five when Legasov dies or when the reactor explodes. We all have Google and Wikipedia and it’s important to not pretend people don’t know things. The trick is to say, ‘I’ll tell you right upfront, he’s going to die and that thing is definitely exploding. You don’t have to wait for it.’ What’s fascinating to me is how people react in the immediate aftermath of those things.
Harris, who revealed now retired actor Daniel Day-Lewis was the first choice to play Legasov: “[Making the series] was a huge task. [Director Johan Renck] used to talk about, ‘We just have to eat this elephant one bite a day. You can’t think about this whole journey that we’re on.’ I’m sure on the production side they would have liked more time but what they had and what they did it with, it was masterfully pulled off.
“Johan was very keen on us not to act out or overplay the drama of the crisis. He’d say, ‘Craig’s taken care of that for you, so we don’t have to describe the stakes to the audience. The tighter we can keep it and the more contained we can keep it, it’s going to hold the tension a lot better and a lot longer.’”
Drama series: The End of the F***ing World
Supporting actress: Naomie Ackie, The End of the F***ing World
Season two of Channel 4 and Netflix coproduction The End of the F***ing World beat strong competition from The Crown, Gentleman Jack and Giri/Haji to win the evening’s biggest prize, while Ackie was completely taken aback by her win over fellow nominees Helen Behan (The Virtues), Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown) and Jasmine Jobson (Top Boy).
Creator and writer Charlie Covell: “2020 feels like the end of the fucking world, so maybe it’s the appropriate time to win this. The pressure [returning for season two] was quite a lot. We had source material for the first season and this was us inventing it ourselves. I work with this amazing team – Clerkenwell Films and Dominic Buchanan Productions – and Ed Macdonald, Emily Harrison and Andy Baker and I sat and storylined it for the best part of a year-and-a-half and then we got to do it.
“It was hard. We didn’t know where to take it initially, but Netflix and Channel 4 gave us the time to make sure we got it right, which was great. You never say never [to season three] but it’s good to quit while you’re ahead and I’m really pleased with where we left the characters. That’s it, I’m afraid.”
Ackie, who plays Bonnie: “It feels incredible to have played a character struggling with her mental illness so strongly and, on top of that, the intersection of that being a black woman and struggling with mental illness is heavy and the empathy that comes with that is sometimes quite lacking. I am so unbelievably grateful to have played a character that inspired that kind of empathy for that kind of character in the people who watched it and voted. I’m very happy for myself, but more so for the team behind it. We all worked so hard together to create a show that felt grounded and of the world of The End of the F***ing World.”
Single drama: The Left Behind
From the Bafta-winning team behind Killed By My Debt and the Murdered by… films, the factual drama tells the story of a young man with no secure job, housing or future as he is drawn towards the far right and becomes involved in a devastating hate crime.
Joseph Bullman, director: “It’s not exactly a feel-good movie, but BBC3 gave us the opportunity to make that film and we’re eternally grateful to them. It’s a story about what’s happening in our country, and there aren’t that many people with the cojones to commission a film like that.
“When you look at the far right in our country, there aren’t that many far-right groups in [wealthy London areas like] Hampstead or Chelsea. If you look at the support for those movements, it almost mirrors a map of our left-behind communities, the people who have been left behind, the post-industrial communities. We knew we couldn’t go to individuals and make a documentary about them because there would have been consent and duty-of-care issues, so Alan and I got really marinated into research of this world.
“We weren’t trying to give people from that political point of view a platform, but we were trying to see the world as they see it. They’ve been ignored for too long.”
Alan Harris, writer: “It is a difficult film, it’s a difficult watch and we purposefully put together a film that wasn’t an easy watch for the audience. It asks a lot of questions. There’s no right or wrong and we’re not taking any sides. We achieved what we set out to achieve, which was to have a little bit more understanding about the central character, if not sympathy.”
Leading actress: Glenda Jackson, Elizabeth is Missing
Returning to the screen after 25 years, Oscar winner Jackson picked up her second Bafta for her startling portrayal of a woman struggling with dementia as she sets out to uncover the mystery behind her friend’s disappearance, leading the past and present to collide.
Jackson: “The technicalities have changed dramatically since I last did a film, but you never have to work for the camera’s attention. I was blessed with a marvellous cast, a great company to work with and a wonderful director, and the story itself comes from a wonderful book.
“It’s a subject which is of particular interest to me because it’s waiting for us all. As a society, we are living much longer and these diseases were unheard of when I was a child because they come with old age. We as a society have a duty to really examine how we are going to care for the elderly when they get to the situation where they have to be cared for.
“Perhaps one of the benefits of the coronavirus pandemic is social care has gone up the political ladder. As a society, we have to acknowledge these terrible illnesses are here to stay and we have to look at how we combine to ensure that, when they strike, the sufferer is not thrown in the pit.”
Supporting actor: Will Sharpe, Giri/Haji
Sharpe was honoured for his performance as Japanese-British sex worker Rodney in the BBC/Netflix coproduction Giri/Haji, created by Joe Barton, which tells the story of a Japanese police officer who comes to the UK in search of his brother amid rising tensions between gangs in Tokyo.
Sharpe: “Joe created in Rodney a person who had a really large appetite for life but had a lot that got in the way for him. Maybe that’s relatable for a lot of people. Even though in some ways he was quite a tragic character, his way of dealing with everything was with humour, and he’s a character I thought on the page was quite infectious to be around, even when he was creating chaos. He’s quite a big personality.
“We had a trip to Hastings [on England’s south coast during filming], as part of the story was they went to the British seaside and there’s a dual burial/ritual for [police officer] Kenzo’s father. In the story, it’s when this hotchpotch family really starts to come together. It also felt a bit like that for us filming it, so that felt very special.”
Female performance in a comedy programme: Sian Clifford, Fleabag
Clifford (also pictured top) beat Fleabag star and creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge to this prize for her portrayal of Fleabag’s uptight sister Claire in season two of the acclaimed comedy drama.
Clifford: “Claire is Phoebe’s brainchild but was a character she wanted to see me play. She wrote a sketch that was two sisters, one of whom was Claire. She sent me the script on my birthday in 2009 and said, ‘Which one do you want to play?’ She wanted me to say Claire, and I fortunately did. I didn’t perform it with Phoebe initially; she didn’t want to perform her own work. Eventually, we forced her hand. And when we did a showcase for producers, we always brought that scene out and it was always their favourite.
“I’m very lucky she took that character and made her Fleabag’s sister. Phoebe’s very generous and not precious about her work, so she was always encouraging me to contribute. There was no discussion about how to play her; she absolutely trusted me but, at the same time, there would be discussions on set about what worked and what didn’t. But that would more be done with a look, rather than a discussion.”
Continuing drama: Emmerdale
First airing in 1972, the soap opera set in a Yorkshire village previously won this award in 2001 and 2017.
Jane Hudson, executive producer: “It’s a real privilege and an honour to win this. It’s such a crazy time for everybody. Honestly, anyone who’s managed to return to shooting [following the coronavirus lockdown] deserves an award, and the soaps are the first ones to get back. Us, Coronation Street, EastEnders, Hollyoaks, Casualty and Holby – all of us are finally getting the recognition we deserve because we’ve gone back, we’re doing it safely and we’ve set a standard for people to follow and have been able to help and advise people. Hats off to all the soaps at the minute for doing what we’ve been able to do.”
Fiona Wade, who plays Priya: “We’re just incredibly thankful [to return to production] with everything going on in the industry at the moment. We’re in very strange times but, from the first day going back in, our safety has come above everything. To be able to carry on doing what we love and to bring the show to everyone, I’m incredibly grateful and thankful.”
Bafta Television Special Award: Idris Elba
Actor, writer and producer Elba was presented this award in recognition of his acting career and his commitment to championing diversity and new talent in the industry. He rose to fame in acclaimed HBO series The Wire and is also known for playing the lead role in BBC crime thriller Luther. Off-screen, he founded production company Green Door Pictures in 2013 with a focus on inclusion and opportunity for undiscovered filmmaking talent.
“I’ve maintained I’d like to see Luther come back as a film; that’s where I think we’re heading towards. I’m looking forward to making that happen. It is happening – I’m hoping that’s going to happen soon. With a film, the sky’s the limit. You can be a little bit more bold with storylines, maybe international, a little more up the scale. But John Luther’s always going to be John Luther.
“We’ve all got a duty to ‘each one teach one’ and give others an opportunity. I wouldn’t be here if someone didn’t think I had some talent and gave me a shot. You’ve got to pay that forward or at least look over your shoulder and see who’s coming up. That isn’t that difficult, it doesn’t cost much money, it just means you’re just looking out for new talent and giving them an opportunity.
“I definitely feel I want to direct a lot more, I want to write a lot more. I’ve been producing now solidly for five years and I love it. It’s a really slow burn: you plant your seeds, you cultivate your land and it comes up really slowly but it’s really satisfying. I love acting and I’d like to win a Bafta as an actor one day.”
Other scripted winners included:
Scripted comedy: Stath Lets Flats
Male performance in a comedy: Jamie Demetriou, Stath Lets Flats
International: When They See Us
Must-see moment: Gavin & Stacey, Nessa proposes to Smithy
tagged in: Baftas, Chernobyl, Elizabeth is Missing, Emmerdale, Giri/Haji, Glenda Jackson, Idris Elba, Jared Harris, Naomie Ackie, Sian Clifford, The End of the F***ing World, The Left Behind, Will Sharpe