Good to be Bad

Good to be Bad

By Michael Pickard
May 15, 2023

Ones to Watch

Bad Sisters, Derry Girls and I Am Ruth dominated the 2023 Bafta Television Awards, with prizes for their stars Anne-Marie Duff, Siobhan McSweeney and Kate Winslet. DQ was backstage to hear from them about their award-winning work.

While Kate Winslet is no stranger to winning at the Baftas, the actor now has a pair of television statuettes to go alongside the three she has won for films Sense & Sensibility, The Reader and Steve Jobs.

Winslet was the star and one of the executives on I Am Ruth, Channel 4’s most recent entry in its I Am anthology series that pairs a leading female actor with writer and director Dominic Savage to tell a story inspired by the star’s own life or a contemporary topic they want to tackle.

At the 2023 Bafta Television Awards, which took place in London last night, the project took home the award for Single Drama, while Winslet was crowned Leading Actress. The TV film stars Winslet as Ruth, a concerned mother who witnesses her daughter Freya (Winslet’s real daughter Mia Threapleton) become consumed by the pressures of social media.

I Am Ruth wasn’t the only female-led drama to win big at the Baftas. Apple TV+ thriller Bad Sisters landed the awards for Drama Series and Supporting Actress for Anne-Marie Duff, who plays Grace Williams, whose coercive and abusive husband JP (Claes Bang) dies unexpectedly at the beginning of the series, with the story flashing backwards and forwards in time to reveal how her four sisters may or may not have been involved in his death.

Siobhan McSweeney claiming her Bafta on Sunday evening

There were also two awards on the night for Channel 4’s Irish comedy Derry Girls, which came to an end after its third season aired last year. Created by Lisa McGee, the series won for Scripted Comedy and Female Performance in a Comedy Programme for Siobhán McSweeney. She plays Sister Michael, a Catholic nun and headmistress of Our Lady Immaculate College, which she rules with an iron fist.

McGee had previously won the award for Writer: Comedy at the 2023 Bafta Television Craft Awards held last month.

Other scripted winners last night included Ben Whishaw for Leading Actor for his portrayal of Adam Kay in autobiographical medical drama This is Going to Hurt. Adeel Akhtar won the Supporting Actor category for his role in crime drama Sherwood.

Following her own Craft Award win for Original Music: Fiction for her scripted series Mood, Nicôle Lecky returned to collect the prize for Miniseries, while Lenny Rush won Male Performance in a Comedy Programme for his role in Am I Being Unreasonable?.

Long-running medical series Casualty won Soap & Continuing Drama, Short Form was won by How to Be a Person and the International prize went to Netflix’s true crime drama Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.

The event’s highest honour, the Bafta Fellowship, was presented to actor and writer Meera Syal, in recognition of her exceptional contribution to television, with work on and off screen that has showcased British-Asian stories and talent across four decades.

After the prizes were handed out, DQ was on hand to hear from some of the winners.

Single Drama: I Am Ruth
Leading Actress: Kate Winslet, I Am Ruth
I Am Ruth, a feature-length drama that comprised Channel 4’s third season of Dominic Savage’s female-focused films, explored the impact of social media on a young girl and her family. Winslet was Savage’s key creative partner on the project, before she starred as Ruth in the entirely improvised film.

Winslet: I honestly did not think we were going to win so I’m genuinely shocked – really and truly, properly shocked – but so proud because we made something that really touched people and that people really thought about and talked about and are still talking about, and still come up to me in the street and talk to me about. That is the most powerful thing about the job we do – sometimes we can really reach people, and that’s why I did I Am Ruth. That’s why we made this single drama.

The mental health crisis among teenagers, because of the damaging effects of social media, it’s no secret and it’s global and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better, so the reason we wanted to make this film was because we wanted to make something that might make some people say, ‘Hang on, that’s me, and that’s happened to us, and we have to do something.’ And we can, like Ruth does and like Freya does.

Everything about it was completely overwhelming, everything about it was very hard. It was a very vulnerable and fragile experience for all of us. But it was just an incredible time, because we just had to throw ourselves at it with a huge amount of trust and commitment. And we were with Dominic, who we knew was going to look after us while gently crafting something that was very truthful and very sincere. As actors, you don’t feel like you’re acting anymore because of the freedom and the space you have to create these words as you go along – the entire thing was improvised, not one single piece of scripted dialogue – and that’s enormously challenging but very rewarding. That’s Dominic. He created the concept and it’s really his power and his magic.

Drama Series: Bad Sisters
Supporting Actress: Anne-Marie Duff, Bad Sisters
This Apple TV+ series was created by Sharon Horgan, who also stars alongside Duff, Eva Birthistle, Sarah Greene and Eve Hewson as the tight-knit Garvey sisters, who have always looked out for each other. When Grace’s husband JP winds up dead, his life insurers launch an investigation to prove malicious intent – and set their sights on the sisters, all of whom had ample reason to kill him. The show has been renewed for a second season.

Sharon Horgan takes to the podium as Anne-Marie Duff (second from left) looks on

Duff: We’ve had the most extraordinary responses from lots of different kinds of audiences. You expect a certain kind of female demographic, but I was on Hampstead Heath and there was a group of guys from a running club and they all stopped and wanted to talk to me about coercion. That’s huge, because it’s so unexpected, and it reminds you why it’s really worthwhile telling these stories.

Claes and I had such a ride together, the two of us. He is extraordinary and kind of mad and brilliant. I say he made my life a living hell but actually he made me laugh my head off every day. The jig would have been up if we hadn’t taken it seriously, so we knew we had to play it as if it were a real full-on drama so then the audience would be saying, ‘Kill him, kill him.’ Otherwise, it wouldn’t have worked.

What we’re living through is an extraordinary age of television. That is the arena where people are taking most risks, definitely in the writing, but sometimes it feels a bit overwhelming because there’s so much quality content to view. But we’re just spoiled for choice and certainly as actors, because there’s so much interesting writing, we get to really swell all these performances, so we’re very spoiled, we’re very happy.

Horgan: Luckily we had an amazing original called Clan that we were able to crib from, and then it was just a lot of long hours in scripting. It’s a tricky thing to juggle thriller, comedy and drama and the timeline and keep it moving, funny and thrilling. There were a lot of writers and a lot of smart people helping the writers.

You don’t just kill a man and get on with your life afterwards. [Season two] is about what happens when something as devastating as that occurs, and there’s some stuff from the past – not JP-related, but adjacent to JP – that comes back to haunt [the sisters]. But really it’s the same: it’s about what you would do for family and love.

Scripted Comedy: Derry Girls
Female Performance in a Comedy Programme: Siobhán McSweeney, Derry Girls
Pitched as a candid family comedy set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, the acclaimed Channel 4 series from creator and writer Lisa McGee won prizes for its third and final season.

Lisa McGee is joined by the Derry Girls cast as she accepts the Scripted Comedy award

McGee: It’s an incredible way to end our Derry Girls journey. It’s been a crazy series and we always planned to do three. There are no plans right now [to do more]. The [show’s young stars] are all so busy and successful now. I’d love to work with them all again on something different. Right now it feels like we’ve left it in the right place.

Thankfully they like it [in Derry] because I couldn’t have gone home again if they didn’t. They’re very honest about what they like in Derry. They’ve really supported it, they’ve really got behind it. We have a mural on a wall in the centre of town, and Derry Girls tours. In one of the episodes in season two, there’s a chalkboard and that’s now in Ulster Museum. It’s crazy.

[Writing] is a lot of work but you should lean into what’s different or unique about your voice and have a really strong tone to your voice to make it stand out. Work really hard, write a lot. It’s the only way to improve and the only way you learn. I still don’t know anything after 20 years of doing it. Every time I start a new script, it’s overwhelming but that’s good because you’re reaching to get better.

McSweeney: If it were down to me [we would have another season], but it isn’t down to me. But I also think the thing that makes shows great is knowing when to end them and not ruining what was good about it by dragging it out for years and years and seasons and seasons. I feel like we’ve left all the characters in a really good place, in a place of hope and a place of peace. Why not leave them there for the time being? I see Sister Michael every time I open my eyes. She’s always with me.

Myself and Lisa have been getting drunk for decades now. I was in her previous sitcom called London Irish, which was based on the realities of our lives in London at the time. The thing about Lisa, I don’t know how she works. She’s a bloody genius, she makes me laugh but what she does is she observes the whole time. There were certain things in Sister Michael that I didn’t have to dig too hard to find.

As a woman and as an actor, when you feel that you always have to be smiling and at your best and be amiable all the time, there’s something so liberating to play a woman who doesn’t give a damn; who assumes that when she walks into the room, she has the eyes of everyone in the room on her, for whatever reason; who presumes she’s the bees knees. That is a wonderful thing and I highly recommend anyone to play Sister Michael for at least one day.

Miniseries: Mood
Creator, writer and star Nicôle Lecky’s BBC adaptation of her own stage play, Superhoe, focuses on Sasha, a wannabe singer and rapper who is drawn into the alluring world of social media.

Nicôle Lecky (centre) wins for Mood

Lecky: I conceived the story, wrote the story and spoke to so many incredible women, with sex workers and everyone who shared so many of their personal stories, and they really did entrust me with those. So for me to be stood there [on stage collecting the award], it’s because of those women.

[When it comes to authenticity,] you can only be yourself. In my early 20s, I tried to be other people perhaps, and tried to write what people wanted me to write or what I thought would be made. Then I figured out that wasn’t working, and the moment I just did what I wanted to do, that’s when people actually received it because they receive authenticity.

Leading Actor: Ben Whishaw, This is Going to Hurt
Whishaw took home the Bafta for his portrayal of Adam, an NHS doctor confronted with the dilemmas and demands of life on a hospital labour ward. The BBC series is based on the real-life diaries of writer Adam Kay, who also took home the prize for Writer: Fiction at the Bafta Television Craft Awards.

Whishaw: It was an amazing role to be given and an amazing experience. I hadn’t worked for a year in the pandemic and it was the first acting I’d done for 12 months. I was really very nervous. It was a very special job personally, but also for all the people making it. Everyone could feel it was about something very important.

I was completely terrified [of breaking the fourth wall]. I really wanted them to cut all that, so I wouldn’t have to do that, because I find that hard. But I had brilliant directors and they told me how to do it.

Supporting Actor: Adeel Akhtar, Sherwood
A member of the starry ensemble cast that populated the world of writer James Graham’s BBC series, Akhtar plays Andy, a troubled and tortured widower who winds up on the run in Sherwood Forest after a catastrophic and shocking event.

Akhtar: When I read that script and I saw all the people attached to it – Lesley Manville and all the cast, Lorraine Ashbourne –  I thought to myself, ‘I’ve just got to keep up. I’ve got to make sure I do a good enough job to keep up with them.’ This is amazing but you just realise in moments like this that you’re only good when you’re surrounded by good people.

Whenever you get a script, you look at whether you can do it; whether you can do the part justice. That first read of it was just to work out whether I could do it. Then beyond that, you know when you’re part of something special when it feels like the narrative is taking care of itself, whether that’s in the writing or drawing our attention to something that is traditionally overlooked – communities or people – and there was something about that [in Sherwood] that carried a momentum to the script. I just had to be a part of it.

Bafta Fellowship: Meera Syal
With more than 140 credits to her name, Syal is best known for starring in and writing comedy series including sketch show Goodness Gracious Me and spoof chat show The Kumars at No 42.

Syal: Goodness Gracious Me just seemed to be a bit of a watershed on lots of different levels. Comedy brings people together in a way that a thousand political speeches don’t. I don’t think people thought of us as a community having a sense of humour. We were always the butt of the jokes, we were never making them, and that was the big difference. And also that we didn’t dilute it. We just went, ‘We’ve got nothing to lose.’ It’s just this stuff we think is funny and makes us laugh. The brilliant thing was it crossed over and I hope that changed people’s perception of us as a community.

[Working in television] is a marathon and not a sprint. Kindness is incredibly important because it’s a tough profession, and divide and rule is something that seems to happen quite a lot. You’re told there’s only the one slot for you or someone who looks like you, the one project a television station will do, and it’s corrosive for your health. There’s room enough for everybody. So I would say find your tribe, because you are stronger together. Find the other creatives like you and hold each other up.

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