Sunday night’s Baftas ceremony is expected to stage a confident return to pre-pandemic levels of glitz and glamor amid fears of weakening public engagement. Europe’s longest red carpet will wrap around a fully capacity Albert Hall ahead of the events, which features new host in Australian comedic actor Rebel Wilson and, for only the second time in two decades, a show pre-running on BBC One.
Last year’s ceremony was also held at Albert Hall, but with minimal noise, virtual acceptance speeches and no live audience. Although the awards verdicts were hailed, Bafta’s renewed credibility was shaken three weeks later by revelations in the Guardian of multiple allegations of verbal abuse, intimidation and sexual misconduct against filmmaker Noel Clarke, which had received the Outstanding Contribution to the British Film Award. Bafta knew about the allegations in advance, but continued with the presentation.
The Outstanding Contribution Award and the annual Bafta Fellowship have been suspended for 2022 as new vetting processes are introduced.
Instead, Bafta appears to be moving in a new direction by targeting family audiences for its film awards, which traditionally have lower viewing figures than the equivalent TV awards ceremony, which is held before the turning point.
Another indication that the producers are targeting a Strictly crowd is that the traditional Cirque du Soleil opener has been replaced with Shirley Bassey singing a James Bond theme, to mark 60 years of the franchise. The 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter franchise should also be celebrated.
The presenters include a number of names – such as RuPaul’s Regé-Jean Page and Bridgerton – far more familiar to a small-screen audience than to moviegoers. They will be joined by stars such as Emma Watson and Tom Hiddleston, whose big-screen work this year has been minimal but whose blockbuster appearances could help attract younger audiences. Lady Gaga, nominated this year for her role in House of Gucci, will present the rising star award, which is decided by public vote.
One of the main absentees is Prince William, who instead records a video message. The non-presentation of the president of Bafta and his wife, Kate Middleton, deals a considerable blow to the international influence of the event. On Thursday, Bafta said the absence was due to “journal constraints”, but it was assumed the duke was unhappy with recent BBC coverage of the royal family. Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace have all condemned Amol Rajan’s The Princes and the Press series, which included claims that courtiers leaked negative stories about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Suggestions that the Duke of Cambridge’s no-show was a recent development were further fueled by an appearance by Rebel Wilson earlier this week in which she said she was making potential jokes by a key member of the Royal Family .
Wilson was a hit at the 2020 awards, when she used her spot as a presenter to poke fun at the masculinity of the Best Directors list, as well as the much-derided Tom Hooper film Cats, in which she starred. His hiring is seen as a bold statement by Bafta, following a poorly received two-year stint by Joanna Lumley that came after years of the ceremony being hosted by Stephen Fry or Graham Norton.
Wilson, 42, also suggested she would try to include the “dirtiest, cheekiest jokes” possible, “because you have to push the envelope”. How that will work out given the show’s new timeslot remains to be seen; the biggest laugh she received in 2020 was for a comparison of the “gift wallet” received by all participants with her own vagina.
Bafta’s new direction contrasts with the lingering uncertainty surrounding the Oscars, which take place a fortnight later. The 94th Academy Awards will return to the Dolby Theater after a socially distanced ceremony at Union Station in Los Angeles last year, for which viewership figures dropped by more than 50%.
Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes have signed on to oversee the proceedings, after three years without a host. The Academy’s decision not to present eight craft awards – including Best Editing and Best Score – as part of the main TV show has been criticized by many filmmakers.
There has also been some confusion over Covid protocols, with different requirements for attendees, presenters and performers, presumably to accommodate stars who are said to be anti-vaxxers. While those in the stalls will need proof of bites, those on stage are only required to provide a recent negative test.
Bafta’s rules are more relaxed but apply to everyone, regardless of their status: a negative PCR or a lateral flow test in the last 24 hours.