Time to celebrate
In My Skin and Time took home the big prizes at Sunday’s Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards, where DQ was on hand backstage to hear from some of this year’s winners.
On the day Sex Education’s Ncuti Gatwa was unveiled as the new Doctor Who, stars in front of and behind the camera stepped out into the London sunshine for the British Academy Television Awards.
Hosting the first edition of the event to take place entirely in person since 2019, Royal Festival Hall was yesterday awash with A-listers who were in the mood to celebrate the best British TV from 2021. In an extremely competitive year, scripted series including It’s A Sin, Landscapers, Time, We Are Lady Parts and single drama Help were among the favourites for the big awards.
But it was Welsh series In My Skin that took home the Bafta for Best Drama, two weeks after creator Kayleigh Llewllyn won the Writer – Fiction prize at the Bafta Craft Awards. The series beat competition from Manhunt: The Night Stalker, Unforgotten and Vigil.
Jimmy McGovern’s prison drama Time, which starred Sean Bean and Stephen Graham, won the Miniseries prize, while Bean also won for Leading Actor. Scripted Comedy went to Motherland.
Sophie Willan took home the prize for Female Performance in a Comedy Programme for her series Alma’s Not Normal, while Jamie Demetriou claimed Male Performance in a Comedy Programme for his show Stath Lets Flats.
Together, starring James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan as a married couple living through the Covid-19 lockdown, won in Single Drama, US historical series The Underground Railroad won the International award and Coronation Street took the prize for Soap & Continuing Drama.
Meanwhile, Cathy Tyson won the Supporting Actress award for her role as a care home resident in coronavirus-focused drama Help, and Succession’s Matthew Macfadyen triumphed in the Supporting Actor category for his role as Tom Wambsgans in the HBO series.
The biggest shock of the night was that there was no further recognition for It’s A Sin, undoubtedly one of the series of 2021, following two awards for Director – Fiction and Editing – Fiction at the Craft Awards, as it missed out on the Miniseries prize and several acting categories.
As the results were announced, DQ was backstage to hear from some of the winners.
Female performance in a comedy programme: Sophie Willan
Willan won the Bafta for her role as the title character in BBC2 comedy Alma’s Not Normal, which she also writes and executive produces. In 2021 she won a Bafta for Writer: Comedy for the show’s pilot, which debuted in 2020, before a full six-episode season aired last year.
“I had a really good team around me, which really helps, and the director is incredible. He particularly made sex scenes quite painless – in a non-sexual way. He shot them really well and it felt really safe. The ‘writer me’ is sabotaging the ‘performer me’ in those sex scenes.
“You don’t have much prep time [to play Alma], I just throw myself into it. I was exec producing it as well so I was wearing three hats on set. It is quite a lot but I felt alright to do it.
“The editing’s the best bit of writing, I find, because you have two writer brains – your writer-creator gets it all out and then the editor comes in with their red pen and judges you. That’s always my favourite bit, the judgy bit.
“When I get home, I’m going to write it [season two]. It’s all a mystery to me. There might be a canal boat.”
International: The Underground Railroad
The Prime Video series, helmed by Oscar winner Barry Jenkins and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, beat competition from fellow nominees Call My Agent, Lupin, Mare of Easttown, Squid Game and Succession. It tells the story of Cora (Thuso Mbedo) as she tries to escape slavery in the Antebellum South.
Peter De Jersey, who plays John Valentine: “The Underground Railroad is very much an ensemble piece and it is a story about a search for joy and for what everyone should have in their lives. Sometimes as an actor, you get involved in a project you’re nothing but proud to be a part of. Often on a thing like this, you’ll have a number of people directing each episode, but Barry did the whole thing. It’s like a ream of different films one after the other, which is an incredible achievement.
“I was doing a show on stage and a friend of mine gave me a copy of The Underground Railroad book. I finished reading it one day before I got a call to come in and do it. We stepped into the world. We were filming in places that were plantations, there were the same trees that people who lived these lives were around. It was quite something.”
Sheila Atim, who plays Mabel: “The team took such great care of us because it was a very difficult production to do, a very difficult subject matter, and I’ve never worked on a production where there was so much attention to not just the work and the artistry but also the wellbeing of every single person involved.
“There were counsellors on set, everyone was checking in. Barry was always checking in after every take, and that made the experience that much more special. It’s a real testament to the fact you can have really safe and protective work environments while also creating brilliant work. That’s something that gets lost in the artistic space.”
Executive producer Adele Romanski: “It was 116 days [of shooting], sandwiched by a hurricane evacuation in the beginning and a pandemic evacuation at the back. On top of the massive feat it is to produce 10 hours of television, additionally to deal with climate change and a global pandemic, it was worth it.
“The challenges were as they are on any set – cast availability, weather, locations falling through. What was specific to this show was how difficult it was sometimes to explore the scenes we were exploring in terms of the brutality and the history specific to our country. Sometimes that material was too difficult for the crew and the cast. Sometimes you just needed a moment.”
Leading Actress: Jodie Comer
Comer won the prize for her role in social drama Help, in which she played a young carer at a Liverpool care home who forms a close bond with an Alzheimer’s patient (played by Stephen Graham) and must deal with the unfolding Covid-19 crisis. This is the actor’s second Bafta following her 2019 win for Killing Eve, which recently concluded after four seasons.
“It’s such an honour to be a part of Help and it was such a team effort. I came away from that job feeling like I never had before from any other roles. I really realised the power we have in the stories we choose to tell and in not shying away from difficult subject matters. And I got to film in [her home city] Liverpool, with Stephen, who I adore.
“I’m at the theatre at the moment [starring in Prima Facie in London’s West End], which I’m loving. It’s a handful and there’s a lot of work to be done so I’m just focusing on that.”
On which other actors she would like to work with: “Gabrielle Creevy from In My Skin. I am so blown away by her. I’ve sent her a couple of messages on Instagram – she probably thinks I’m a crazy stalker! She is breathtaking and I would love to work with her.”
On what she’ll miss about Killing Eve: “All the mischief! I had so many moments on set just looking around and realising the ridiculousness of everything – the strangest moments, the most incredible locations or the most amazing costumes, getting away with so much trouble. There was always a challenge with Villanelle, there was always something unexpected around the corner, so to play a character for four years and not quite know where it’s going to go was really exciting. To be a part of a show that is so loved and has such an incredible fanbase – we never anticipated it would be as big as it was – and to see how it went down was pretty incredible. I don’t think that happens all the time. I feel very lucky about that.”
Male Performance in a Comedy Programme: Jamie Demetriou
Demetriou triumphed for playing the title role in Stath Lets Flats, which he also created and writes. The series launched on Channel 4 in 2018 and also earned Demetriou Baftas in 2020 for Scripted Comedy, Male Performance in a Comedy Programme and Writer: Comedy.
“I’m truly thrilled. In the comedy industry, you see everyone all the time. There’s a small group of people who do comedy and I vaguely know or know really well everyone else who was nominated and it’s just amazing to be surrounded by so many great people.
“There are conversations to be had [about more seasons]. I breezed through the first three too quickly. It will be good to have some thinking time. There’s only so many flats he can and can’t let and I’ll have to work out new ways for that to happen.
“I have a sneaking suspicion, and maybe this is something I need to let go of, that part of the thing that helps you to do good work is never fully acknowledging when it’s working. Maybe it’s just because I’ve never experienced making anything where I haven’t felt terrible about it. The other thing about comedy is, ultimately, it’s almost exclusively about surprise; that’s all comedy is. It’s like a weird human reaction people have to surprise, and it’s difficult to maintain a sense of surprise with a project when I’m literally watching each episode 50 times. I’m probably subconsciously trying to hold on to a bit of self-doubt to stay level in this weird industry.”
Scripted Comedy: Motherland
The BBC Two comedy won a Bafta for its third season, which looks at the competitive and unromantic side of parenting from the viewpoint of a group of ‘Alpha mums’ and dads. Season three was written by Holly Walsh, Helen Serafinowicz, Barunka O’Shaughnessy and Sharon Horgan.
O’Shaughnessy: “I don’t want to say it’s surprising that loads of people watched it, but it’s the only really successful show I’ve ever written on so that’s a bonus.
“It’s giving women a voice, particularly the put-upon silent majority who are mothers. That’s what [I liked about it] before I came to it [in season two], and the words we put in their mouths are hopefully pretty funny as well.”
Serafinowicz: “It’s about friendship as well, it’s not just about parenting, so other people can relate to it. Also, teenagers love it.”
Walsh: “We always say it’s a workplace comedy rather than a mothering comedy. We’re so lucky because we just hit complete gold with our cast. We’ve got the best cast you could ask for and, whatever we write, they make it a billion times funnier. And we’ve got an amazing director in Simon [Hynd].
“Even if they cancelled it tomorrow, I would still get a queue of people telling me some horrendous story. It’s a real group effort, and that includes all the crazy people who love telling us things that genuinely happened to them, which are often too mad to use in storylines.”
Soap & Continuing Drama: Coronation Street
The long-running ITV series celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2020.
Sally Dynevor, who plays Sally Metcalfe: “All of us said it’s not going to be Corrie tonight so we can just sit back and relax. Then when they said Coronation Street, it was brilliant. It’s such a great show to work on, it’s a real team and it’s great to be on.
“It has been a very strange time because when Covid hit, we were all at two-metre distances. Now we’re getting back to normal slowly so everyone’s rushing around.”
Charlie De Melo, who plays Imran Habeeb: “This is the case for every show being honoured tonight, but we have had to try to make things work with less-than-ideal circumstances. The fact that not only did we not go dark once [during Covid], we never went off the air, but we were able to do so at such a [high] standard, it’s such a testament to everybody who works there.
“On a normal single-camera drama, you’d maybe get through three pages of dialogue a day. We are more often getting through 40-plus, so in a normal week, you can get through a feature film’s worth of dialogue in five days.”
Reflecting on the cancellation of fellow long-running soaps Holby City and Neighbours, Dynevor said: “I can’t imagine a life without Corrie. That would just be terrible.”
De Melo added: “It was devastating because these things are part of my cultural upbringing. They shaped my interests and tastes. For them to go away is desperately sad and I can only hope that talent isn’t gone to waste, that everyone involved in those shows finds a new home. That would be a real tragedy.”
Supporting Actor: Matthew Macfadyen
Macfadyen scooped the Bafta for his portrayal of Tom Wambsgans in Succession, HBO’s standout drama about dysfunctional media dynasty the Roy family. Series creator Jesse Armstrong collected the award for Macfadyen, while Succession lost out in the International category.
Armstrong: “I’m always not expecting us to win in that category [International] against such strong competition and I was correct. But I’m delighted with the success of the show, and [Macfadyen is] extraordinary. That category was packed with extraordinary talent. He’s brilliant but they’re all brilliant.
On whether he feels any pressure to continue the show’s success: “A little bit. You’ve got all those actors who you get to know better and what they can do, and I feel we need to give them good stuff.
“We’re almost wrapping up the season four writers room. We do it here in London, so the US writers come over. I always have some ideas to go into it with but they’re really a great group of people to talk about the nuances of character and the world and what we should do in the show.
“Sometimes I come in with an idea [for a twist] but that’s what the room is for, for putting different things we think are going to happen together and then sometimes finding those things people find surprising.
“Once we’ve got it all, I will talk to all the key members of the cast and say what I think happens and get their feedback, because it’s useful. They’re smart and think things about their characters that can cause us to adjust.”
On when Succession might end: “I don’t think it should go on forever but we’re still having fun at the moment.”
Other winners in scripted categories included:
Drama Series: In My Skin
Leading Actor: Sean Bean, Time
Single Drama: Together
Supporting Actress: Cathy Tyson, Help
tagged in: Alma’s Not Normal, Bafta, Coronation Street, Help, In My Skin, Jamie Demetriou, Jodie Comer, Matthew Macfadyen, Motherland, Sophie Willan, Stath Lets Flats, Succession, The Underground Railroad, Time