Baftas 2021: Michaela Coel dedicates win to intimacy coordinator

Coel picks up acting award as her hit drama I May Destroy You, which deals with sexual assault, wins best mini-series

Michaela Coel and her hit drama I May Destroy You won big at the 2021 television Baftas on Sunday – with Coel dedicating her acting award to the series’ intimacy coordinator, Ita O’Brien.

Accepting awards for a show that dealt with sexual abuse and consent, Coel said film and television sets were vulnerable places for actors and crew members. Not to have intimacy experts was “thoughtless” and showed a “lack of mindfulness”, she added.

I May Destroy You was one of the cultural events of 2020, in any genre, described by the Guardian’s Lucy Mangan as “astonishing, beautiful, thrilling”. The BBC and HBO series was inspired by Coel’s own experience of sexual assault by strangers after her drink was spiked. It is about the aftermath of a rape and is often called a “a sexual consent drama” but it is also a story of fun, friendship and more.

At Sunday’s Baftas ceremony it won best mini-series, triumphing over Small Axe, Normal People and Adult Material.

Coel was named best actress and dedicated her Bafta to the series’ intimacy director, O’Brien. “Thank you for your existence in our industry, for making the space safe, for creating physical, emotional and professional boundaries so that we can make work about exploitation, loss of respect, about abuse of power without being exploited or abused in the process.

“I know what it is like to shoot without an intimacy director. The messy, embarrassing feeling for the crew. The internal devastation for the actor. Your direction was essential to my show and I believe essential for every production company that wants to make work exploring themes of consent.”

The Bafta ceremony was the first since the Guardian revealed in April that the actor Noel Clarke had been accused of groping, harassment and bullying by 20 women who knew him in a professional capacity. Clarke vehemently denies the allegations.

Amid ongoing debate over protections for people working in the film and television industries, Clarke was stripped of a Bafta award for outstanding British contribution to cinema, which was presented after the academy had been made aware of some of the claims, and his membership was suspended. Coel released a statement expressing support “for the 20 brave women who have come forward”.

I May Destroy You won in a strong year for British drama. Steve McQueen’s Small Axe, which secured the biggest number of nominations and won five prizes at the recent Bafta Craft awards, came away on Sunday with just one award: best supporting actor for Malachi Kirby, who played Darcus Howe in Mangrove.

Paul Mescal won best actor for his portrayal of the smouldering and sensitive Connell in Normal People – one of a number of triumphs for the BBC.

Best entertainment performance went to Romesh Ranganathan for The Ranganation on BBC Two. He said it had been an easier series for him as he made it from his garage. “In many ways I feel I put in less effort and got more reward,” he joked.

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s Inside No 9, now in its sixth series on BBC Two, won best scripted comedy from a shortlist that also contained Ghosts, This Country and Man Like Mobeen.

Casualty, perhaps reflecting the last year’s love and respect for the NHS, won in the soap and continuing drama category, beating Hollyoaks, Coronation Street and EastEnders. That was the show’s third win, still a way off EastEnders’ nine.

There were some surprises. The late Paul Ritter had been tipped to win best male performance in a comedy for Friday Night Dinner. It went to Charlie Cooper for BBC Three’s This Country.

The best entertainment programme category has been dominated in recent years by Strictly Come Dancing and Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. Both of those were nominated again, along with The Masked Singer, but it was Life & Rhymes which triumphed, a series celebrating spoken word on Sky Arts presented by Benjamin Zephaniah.

By far the trickiest category to work out was the one voted for by the public for must-see moment: Diversity’s powerful Black Lives Matter performance on Britain’s Got Talent versus Nigella Lawson saying ‘mee-cro-wah-vay’ instead of microwave and Luke Skywalker appearing on The Mandalorian. In the end the public voted for Diversity on BGT.

After last year’s strangely quiet virtual ceremony, the 2021 iteration was more of a hybrid event. This time there was a socially distanced audience, laughing at the best lines of host Richard Ayoade. “What need is there to live life, when we can watch it?” he asked.

Contributor

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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