And well you might look sad, Olivia Colman. Despite producing one of last year’s stand-out performances in film, namely, as abused wife and Christian charity shop manager Hannah in Paddy Considine’s devastating debut Tyrannosaur, you have been overlooked by the membership of Bafta in their 2012 nominations (which can be seen here in full). Instead, Leading Actress will go to one of the following five: Bérénice Bejo for The Artist; Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady, Michelle Williams for My Week With Marilyn; Tilda Swinton for We Need To Talk About Kevin; and Viola Davis for The Help (which I haven’t seen, for the record). All of the above are great performances – and I’m sure Davis is good in The Help, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt – but it seems a crying shame that Colman didn’t make the final five.
It’s a shame, but it’s not a scandal, as many peers and commentators have made it seem on the internet today. If you want to understand the Bafta voting system, it’s explained in detail here. Basically, the 6,500 Bafta members vote the starting list of about 250 contenders down to 15, the longlist, then vote that down the shortlist, after which they vote for their favourite from that list of five. In other words, their vote is not influenced – at least not directly or explicitly – by such cynicism-feeding factors as who will look good on the front row at the ceremony on TV, or who deserves an award because they will make the British film industry look good, or the who will make us look good because they are American and will therefore stop the Baftas looking parochial and insular.
I’m sure Bafta members ask their friends who they’ve voted for, in secret (just like Big Brother housemates always seem to do) or who they intend to vote for, but with 6,500 of them, a consensus is bound to arise, and it will, you have to expect, accurately reflect the views of the membership. This is not the Hollywood Press Association, or the public, it’s 6,500 mostly professional people from within or in the vicinity of the industry.
In other words, across those 6,500 members, Olivia Colman might actually have been their sixth favourite Leading Actress, as she was rightly included in the 15-strong longlist. She was also longlisted for Supporting Actress for The Iron Lady, interestingly enough. It would have been ironic if she’d made the shortlist for that but not for Tyrannosaur.
Frankly, as is well known, Tyrannosaur is easily one of my favourite films of last year – right up there with Kill List – and I’m hardly on a limb in this regard. But in both cases I can see why Bafta members might recoil from the subject matter, and the execution. Neither is an “easy” film. Certainly not as “easy” as My Week With Marilyn or The Help (which I haven’t seen, but I will eat my hat if it doesn’t have an uplifting message, something that Tyrannosaur doesn’t, at least not in the conventional sense). Tyrannosaur gets a nomination for Paddy Considine, which is cheering news, but that is the full extent of its Bafta recognition.
What we have here is a disconnect between a broad consensus and the personal passion of a number of individuals. It happens. It happens in elections, too. As we have established, in a democracy the middle ground wins elections, and not the fringes. The Artist may be French, and in its own way radical, but it’s easy to like, and will prevail, I think, in all the big award categories this season. Considine did not write his first feature film so that it would bag him an Oscar, but he might, in his heart of hearts, dared to imagine it being recognised by Bafta. Unfortunately, if it wasn’t eligible as an “Outstanding Debut” (which it is), we would be looking at a total snub.
Except it wouldn’t be a snub. It wouldn’t be the insidious result of an agenda, or of internal politics. It would just be a larger group of professionals not liking a film about horrible, depressing abuse and brutality, than those liking it.
Which doesn’t make it any easier to be Olivia Colman today, who has arguably delivered the performance of her career so far – because Considine cast her in a non-comic role and gave her so much more to get her teeth into – and it has slipped beneath the radar.
It is not abuse. It is the way of the world. You wanted democracy. You got it.
PS: It has been suggested – by none other than that nice man Boyd Hilton on Twitter – that both Shame and We Need To Talk About Kevin, nominated for best film, are less conventional than Tyrannosaur. It’s an interesting point. I would say that Tyrannosaur’s “conventionality” or otherwise isn’t really the issue here; it’s more about its unrelenting misery, all-round tone of grey despair and scenes of sadistic violence. Shame is about a rich man who has a lot of mechanical sex but can’t get a girlfriend. It’s a powerful film, but actually pretty glamorous with its New York setting, and the only abuse is really self-abuse. Kevin is definitely disturbing, but it has moments of happy home life at the beginning (against which the nightmare plays out) and again has a bright, aspirational, middle-class setting (again, which points up the nightmare). But do discuss!