Killer Queens: Olivia Colman and Rami Malek crown regal Baftas

Exemplary – if slightly unexciting – choices defined this year’s ceremony, but I can’t help but grieve for Richard E Grant

So in the end, there were no great surprises at this year’s Baftas, and it was a great night for The Favourite, which in the most extraordinary way fuses trad Brit period theatricality with high auteur cinema. Olivia Colman’s Bafta as best actress is the most glorious achievement so far in this performer’s remarkable career. Her portrayal of Queen Anne was simultaneously hilarious, scary, eerie and poignant. She may have changed the course of history studies. It was only on rewatching The Favourite that I realised when I first encountered this monarch’s reputation: as a student, reading Pope’s The Rape of the Lock: “Great Anna, whom three realms obey, Dost sometimes counsel take – and sometimes tea!” When are we getting an Alexander Pope biopic with Toby Jones incidentally?

Rachel Weisz’s best supporting actress Bafta for her performance in The Favourite was richly deserved, and I am happy to concede I called this one wrong when making my own predictions, favouring Emma Stone’s performance as the aristocrat who faces off with Weisz in a duel for the monarch’s affections and patronage. It might have been nice to see them win it jointly, but this is a great win for Weisz and her portrayal of sly, feline realpolitik-meets-sexual-dysfunction.

But in a way, Roma ran The Favourite even by getting best film, along with best director for Alfonso Cuarón, best film not in the English language, and best cinematography – for Cuarón’s own very remarkable camerawork.

These awards, shared out as they were among Roma and The Favourite, seem to be a very just division of the spoils. Surely now Netflix will roll out a new theatrical distribution for Roma, so that people all over the UK and Ireland will have the chance to see this glorious film on the big screen and not just on their TVs, smartphones and tablets?

As for the acting awards, they were a little predictable: Rami Malek surprised no one by winning the Bafta for his very accomplished turn as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. TV watchers of a certain age may have found themselves occasionally murmuring: “Tonight, Matthew …”, but it is a very enjoyable performance and perhaps we should remember how, until relatively recently, this film was considered interesting only because Sacha Baron Cohen was supposedly going to star in it. Well, Malek made it his own and, like it or not, he is in pole position for the Oscar. The feelings of other candidates about this – particularly Bradley Cooper for his own rock-star performance – can only be guessed at.

A Star Is Born is a great mainstream movie, a heart-on-sleeve spectacle which perhaps doesn’t deserve to suffer the momentum-loss that appears to have afflicted it. Cooper can take some comfort in his film getting best music (I had wondered if Mary Poppins Returns might pinch this one) but, being only human, he must have dreamed of more. Well, the Oscars still lie ahead.

Mahershala Ali is a popular Bafta winner for his very warm and charismatic performance in Green Book as Dr Don Shirley, the troubled musician who is chauffeured through the deep south by Viggo Mortensen’s philistine Italian-American nightclub bouncer. The film itself isn’t a masterpiece, but it would be obtuse not to see how much love and goodwill it continues to generate and Ali is really good – though I was hoping for a Bafta for Richard E Grant.

Richard E Grant arrives at the ceremony.
Richard E Grant arrives at the ceremony. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

It is worth noting an interesting victory for Spike Lee’s satire BlacKkKlansman, gaining a best adapted screenplay for Lee himself, working with David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott. BlacKkKlansman is a fierce, punchy, often very funny movie that has won the hearts of audiences and critics. I found myself preferring Lee’s previous movie, the relatively ungarlanded Chi-Raq, from 2015, an adaptation of Aristophanes’s Lysistrata. But BlacKkKlansman lights up like a pinball machine, and it is authentically engaged not merely with its period subject but with contemporary America.

It was fun to see Free Solo win best documentary (though tough on the excellent Three Identical Strangers), because it is a genuinely popular choice and a popular movie in a category that is often very recherché. Alex Honnold’s look-no-ropes climbing expeditions will leave you open-mouthed.

A very good night at the Baftas, and a very satisfying honours-even for two of the most remarkable films: Roma and The Favourite.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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