Nomadland, Chloé Zhao’s elegiac drama about the life of ageing van-dwellers in America, has confirmed its position as Oscars frontrunner with four wins at the 74th Bafta awards, including best film.
Zhao took best director, making her only the second woman – following Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 – to pick up the award. Nomadland also won cinematography and leading actress for Frances McDormand.
McDormand did not attend the ceremony, even virtually, which took place in a deserted Royal Albert Hall, drenched in red light, with co-hosts Edith Bowman and Dermot O’Leary wrangling a handful of in-person presenters and scores of video-linked nominees. A select audience attending through their laptops provided often eerie laughter and applause.
Zhao, 39, who Zoomed in wearing a plaid flannel shirt and dungarees, thanked the community of real-life nomads who welcomed her and her crew.
“Thank you for showing us that ageing is a beautiful part of life,” she said. “A journey that we should all cherish and celebrate. How we treat our elders says a lot about who we are as a society and we need to do better.”
In fact, the Baftas accorded considerable respect to its more venerable members, with Anthony Hopkins, 83, becoming the oldest-ever male acting winner, beating favourite Chadwick Boseman, who had been expected to win posthumously for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Hopkins won for his role in The Father, Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his stage play about a man with dementia. The eldest acting winner, Emmanuelle Riva, was 84 when she won for her role in another dementia drama, Michael Haneke’s Amour.
Hopkins also did not appear to accept his award but did pop up on video at a press conference later, saying that he was “astounded” to receive his third best actor Bafta. He had been working on his canvases at the time of the announcement, he said.
“I am sitting here covered in paint,” said Hopkins, “and I heard a massive cheer next door. I thought it was a football match.”
Hopkins went on to liken the confusion of his character in the film to the universal disorientation caused by the pandemic: “We are in another reality; we are losing our anchors.”
Zeller also won best adapted screenplay alongside Christopher Hampton; original screenplay went to Emerald Fennell, the first time writer/director until now best known for her acting work on The Crown, in which she played Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
Fennell’s film, a rape-revenge comedy set in the US and starring Carey Mulligan, also took outstanding British film. Fennell, sitting solo in a ballroom, eating a chocolate Bafta, expressed her thanks to cast and crew for their contribution to “a labour of love; everyone did it pretty much for a packet of crisps”.
Promising Young Woman beat a shortlist of 10 films to the prize, including Rocks, Sarah Gavron’s coming-of-age tale about a diverse group of schoolgirls in London, which had been widely tipped for the win.
In the end, that film went home with best casting and the rising star award for actor Bukky Bakray, who, in an emotional speech, paid tribute to the rapper DMX, who died on Saturday, as well as recently-deceased friends and family.
“Sleep well to everyone else who died last year and this year,” she said, “who went to bed infinitely. I truly believe that it is the love and light that you have left on this universe which is holding us all today.”
Best foreign language film went to Another Round, which stars Mads Mikkelsen as the ringleader of a gang of teachers who seek to spend an entire school term intoxicated.
Zooming in from Sweden, writer/director Thomas Vinterberg paid tribute to his 19-year-old daughter, Ida, who was killed in a car accident four days into the shoot.
“She was more enthusiastic about this project than anyone else,” he said. “We made this movie for her.” After a hiatus in production, the film was finished, shot largely in Ida’s school with her classmates.
Minari star Youn Yuh-jung confirmed a late surge of momentum with a win in the supporting actress category. In a disarming address, the veteran South Korean star, 83, offered her condolences to Britain for the death of the Duke of Edinburgh and said she was especially gratified by the win because everyone knows Brits are “very snobbish”.
Daniel Kaluuya followed supporting actor wins at the Golden Globes at the Screen Actors Guild with further silverware for his role as Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton, in Judas and the Black Messiah. “It’s an honour to be a vessel for him,” said Kaluuya, who also thanked three key cultural figures from his childhood: “Cathy Tyson, Roy Williams and Ashley Walters, for being a light and guiding the way.”
Remi Weekes, the writer/director of acclaimed Netflix horrorHis House, was also eager to thank minority voices who had inspired him while accepting his award for outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer.
Weekes, 34, dedicated his award to immigrants, migrants, “black and brown and queer people who nurtured me and lifted me up. I look forward to doing to same for you.”
The shortlists for this year’s Baftas were the most inclusive in the organisation’s history, with 16 of the 24 acting nominees people of colour; in 2020, they were all white.
The 2021 nominees were vindication for a raft of 120 radical changes introduced in the wake of last year’s hegemony. These included an overhaul of membership, compulsory viewing statutes and most shortlists being determined by jury, rather than overall vote.
It was therefore always likely that the final results – voted for by all members – would skew more traditional than the strikingly progressive shortlists. Yet the organisation will be relieved that the embarrassment of last year has been comfortably avoided.
The populist vote was perhaps most evidenced by the win in the best documentary category for My Octopus Teacher, over heavyweight contenders such as Collective (about medical corruption in Romania) and The Dissident (about the killing of Jamal Khashoggi).
A study of the relationship between film-maker Craig Foster and a wild common octopus in a South African kelp forest, the mollusc documentary has proved a surprise hit for Netflix. Tearful co-director Pippa Ehrlich concluded her thanks with a shoutout to “a very special little octopus who has opened hearts all over the world”.
Mank, which heads into the Oscars in a fortnight the scorecard leader, with 10 nominations, picked up just one award, for production design. The Trial of the Chicago 7, News of the World and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm all went home empty-handed.
Hugh Grant presented the Bafta Fellowship to his Sense and Sensibility director Ang Lee, the Taiwanese director whose output has been so genre-hopping Grant suggested he had been cloned.
This year’s Baftas were set to include a speech by Prince William about the resilience of the film industry. Following the death of his grandfather, Prince Philip, on Friday, the Duke of Cambridge pulled out of the ceremony, which nonetheless began with a tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh.