‘Disgraceful neglect of Line of Duty’: the wrongs and rights of the Bafta TV nominations

Show caption The Baftas failed to recognise Adrian Dunbar for his magnificent portrayal of Supt Ted Hastings in Line of Duty. Photograph: Steffan Hill/BBC/PA Television ‘Disgraceful neglect of Line of Duty’: the wrongs and rights of the Bafta TV nominations Jed Mercurio’s show is unfairly lacking in awards, and Bafta needs to give more weight to international shows from broadcasters like Netflix – or fail to reflect TV’s balance of power Mark Lawson Wed 30 Mar 2022 13.55 BST Share on Facebook

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According to Bafta publicity, 66% of the performance nominees for this year’s TV awards are first-timers. It points out that this continues the academy’s aim to honour newer and broader talent, including Channel 4’s We Are Lady Parts, about a Muslim punk band – but, overall, the prizes are strikingly dominated by three great figures from TV’s baby boomer generation.

There are a combined 17 nominations for It’s a Sin (many of them to young actors) and Time – dramas created respectively by Jimmy McGovern, 72, and Russell T Davies, 58. The latter is the same age as Graham Norton, who already holds five Baftas and is once again double nominated as presenter and producer of a series that, as it heads towards its 500th edition, competes only with Michael Parkinson’s to be the greatest ever British chatshow.

And, continuing the apparent statute that she must appear in all showbiz prize lists, Olivia Colman, 48, a triple Bafta winner just back from this year’s Oscars ceremony, is nominated as a producer among the seven nods for Sky Atlantic’s Landscapers, though, unusually, not for her acting.

‘She must appear in all showbiz prize lists’ … Olivia Colman in Landscapers, for which she was nominated as a producer, but not an actor. Photograph: Photographer: Stefania Rosini/©Sky UK Ltd / HBO / Sister

At a time of proper scrutiny of width of opportunity, the challenge for all awards-giving bodies is to honour the fresh and new while also recognising that originality and vigour can still be achieved by long-timers. This list largely does that.

An exception is another relative veteran: Jed Mercurio, 55. His Line of Duty has never won a Bafta in any category and its only chances from the sixth (and possibly final) season come in three categories for the TV Craft awards – which celebrate behind-the-scenes talent – editing, music and sound. The actors (including Adrian Dunbar’s magnificent Supt Ted Hastings) may have suffered in jury rooms from a sense that these performances have been running for a decade now, and the most recent episodes may have been marked down for a pay-off some found unsatisfying.

But future historians will see in Owen Teale’s chief constable Osbourne and Nigel Boyle’s DSU Buckells – lying, lazy mediocrities who rise lethally above their capabilities – prescient warnings about the consequences of electing Boris Johnson, all the more impressive for being sneaked past a BBC that may not have realised how brave it was being. Bafta has various special awards at its disposal and should use one to correct the disgraceful neglect of Mercurio and Line of Duty.

‘The BBC should be grateful to Time’ … Sean Bean in Jimmy McGovern’s prison drama. Photograph: Matt Squire/PA

With that show overlooked, the BBC should be grateful to Time, which gives the corporation its strongest presence among the drama contenders. From the extraordinary psychological and emotional duel between Sean Bean’s agonised inmate and Stephen Graham’s tortured prison warder, jurors have chosen Bean, although he may still be beaten by Graham, who makes the same shortlist for Help, the Channel 4 care home drama that gives the Covid pandemic its most direct reflection in the prizes. Confirming Graham’s status as one of the best screen actors, a place has been found for his Time performance in the supporting actor category.

At a time when the BBC is facing an existential debate with the government over its future funding and structure, the Bafta selections are worrying for the director general, Tim Davie. Broadcasting House is at least matched in fiction by ITV – with Stephen, Too Close, Unforgotten and Manhunt: The Night Stalker – and the corporation’s giant news division, often cited as a primary justification for the licence fee, is squeezed out in news coverage by ITV (twice), Sky News and Channel 4 News.

This may reflect juror concern about last year’s revelations of the historical BBC coverup of Martin Bashir’s methods to secure a 1995 interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, plus an industry sense that BBC journalism was too close to the government over Covid and too timid on “partygate”. The recently appointed news supremo Deborah Turness, incoming from ITN, should take the empty trophy shelf as evidence of serious issues to be addressed. At least BBC current affairs looks in better health, with one of the greatest documentarians, Norma Percy, honoured for Trump Takes on the World.

A police officer who featured in BBC Two’s Bafta-nominated Four Hours at the Capitol. Photograph: Jamie Roberts/BBC/Amos Pictures

Yet that show – and BBC Two’s shortlisted Four Hours at the Capitol – were made for the BBC by external production companies, as were the vast majority of BBC nominees. The poor showing by the production arm BBC Studios – apart from Time and Strictly Come Dancing – may be problematic for Davie in defending the present shape and scale of the BBC. Trophies are only one metric, but the BBC has used them often in the past as self-advertising.

Conversely, Channel 4, which is fighting government threats of privatisation, may be helped. Its big contenders – It’s A Sin, We Are Lady Parts, Help – could all be used as examples of the sort of bold work made possible by not having to share profits with shareholders. (Although the vast salaries of Channel 4’s leaders sit oddly with a state-owned business.) Those at the culture department who wonder about some merging of Channel 4 and the BBC as a public service network may beadily note the curiosity that Channel 4’s Grenfell: The Untold Story was made by BBC Studios.

Anjana Vasan in her Bafta-nominated performance in Channel 4’s We Are Lady Parts. Photograph: Laura Radford/Channel 4

Another mark of the increasing democratisation of TV production is that the National Theatre receives its first ever Bafta TV nomination for Clint Dyer and Roy Williams’ Death of England: Face to Face, a movie shot in the building during lockdown as a sequel to two stage shows. It was also nominated for a Royal Television Society prize this year, as was another NT lockdown film, Romeo and Juliet. But another of the shivers for traditional TV is that the National, rather than partnering with Sky as for these films, might ultimately distribute screen work only through its own NT at Home streaming service or NT Live in cinemas: a model that may tempt other cultural producers.

At the awards ceremony on 24 April, though, the most ominous moment for the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 tables will be the reading of the shortlist in the international category. This sextet – Call My Agent!, Lupin, Mare of Easttown, Squid Game, Succession, The Underground Railroad – would likely have wiped out most homegrown dramas if admitted into the domestic categories and illustrate where the money and heat in TV fiction now mainly are: Netflix (with three of the six), HBO-Sky Atlantic (two) and Amazon Studios.

Under a recent adjustment, British actors in international shows can now compete for the performance awards, benefiting Kate Winslet for her sublime portrayal of a multiply guilty detective in Mare of Easttown and, from Succession, Matthew Macfadyen for supporting actor and Jesse Armstrong as writer.

But Brad Ingelsby’s brilliant script for Winslet is excluded as he is American and Brian Cox, though eligible as British, has failed to make the actor list for Succession, presumably due its being such a packed category.

With so much of the best programming coming from non-UK producers, there will surely soon have to be more international categories – much as the Emmys have a large non-US section – or wider qualification. As when the Booker prize extended its catchment zone to the US, there is a risk of UK talent being marginalised, but the alternative jeopardy is the Baftas looking like a Little Britain that does not reflect the balance of power in TV.

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