In Depth

Five highlights from the Bafta Film Awards

From a history-making win to Rebel Wilson giving Vladimir Putin ‘the finger’

The red carpet was retrieved from storage, dusted off and rolled out last night for the 75th British Academy Film Awards, which took place in person, at full capacity, for the first time in two years.

Western psychological drama The Power of the Dog and sci-fi masterpiece Dune dominated the awards, while Will Smith, who starred in King Richard, and West Side Story’s Ariana DeBose cemented their status as Oscar frontrunners as they took home two of the most coveted prizes.

Here are five highlights from the star-studded evening at the Royal Albert Hall in London:

Shirley Bassey proved diamonds are forever

The night began with a rendition of Diamonds are Forever by 85-year-old Shirley Bassey, honouring the James Bond franchise’s 60th anniversary.

Rocking her signature brown bob and dressed in a “gorgeous gold sequined dress”, the iconic Welsh singer “gave a stellar performance”, reported Wales Online. Her powerful rendition of the iconic theme tune received a standing ovation.

Deaf actor Troy Kotsur made history

CODA star Troy Kotsur made history when he became the first deaf actor to win a Bafta in one of the main categories. When Kotsur’s award for best supporting actor was announced by Millie Bobby Brown and Florence Pugh, the audience’s enthusiastic clapping quickly turned to silent jazz hands, the British Sign Language expression of applause. 

Kotsur plays Frank Rossi in CODA, an acronym for “child of deaf adults”, a coming-of-age comedy drama that follows the story of a teenage girl (Emilia Jones) who is the only non-deaf member of her family. CODA’s writer and director Siân Heder also landed her first Bafta for best adapted screenplay.

Troy Kotsur with his Bafta

Troy Kotsur became the first deaf actor to win a Bafta in one of the main categories

Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

During his acceptance speech, which he made in sign language, Kotsur said it was “such an honour” to be at the Bafta awards and to have picked up an award. He then congratulated the team behind James Bond on the diamond anniversary and joked that the producers should consider “a deaf James Bond – 008?”.

Rebel Wilson took aim at J.K. Rowling

It was Australian comedian Rebel Wilson’s first time hosting the Baftas, with Variety describing her as “one of the Bafta Awards’ most memorable presenters in past years”. While the Pitch Perfect star’s jokes had to be relatively safe considering the pre-watershed timing of the show, there were several that stood out. 

When speaking about her weight loss, the actor took a potshot at J.K. Rowling, who has come in for criticism in recent years for her public comments about gender ideology. “I might look a bit different from the last time you saw me here,” Wilson told the audience. “That was me two years ago and since then I've done quite a transformation – I hope J.K. Rowling still approves.” 

Emma Watson also appeared to throw shade at the bestselling author. “[Watson] calls herself a feminist, but we all know she’s a witch,” said Wilson, as she brought the Harry Potter actor on stage to present the award for outstanding British film. As she took her place on the podium, Watson clarified that she was “here for all of the witches”. Many perceived her emphasis on the word “all” to be a dig at Rowling. 

Emma Watson at the Baftas

Emma Watson walks the red carpet outside the Royal Albert Hall

Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Jane Campion scooped the top prize

Bafta has been criticised in the past for being “male, pale and stale”, but this year’s awards were anything but. The gong for best director was taken home by New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog, making her only the third woman to win the award in Bafta’s seven-decade history (another female director, Chloé Zhao, won for Nomadland last year).

Campion wasn’t present at the ceremony but later said that it was “incredible” to win the award. Benedict Cumberbatch, star of The Power of the Dog, accepted the gong on her behalf. He received one of the biggest laughs of the night when he pretended to read out his own acceptance speech, which had gone unused after he (gracefully) lost out in the best actor category to Smith for King Richard.

Benedict Cumberbatch and his wife Sophie Hunter

Benedict Cumberbatch and his wife Sophie Hunter on the red carpet

Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

Nods were made to the war in Ukraine

The ceremony was relatively apolitical, but there were several significant references to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Batman actor Andy Serkis made headlines for using his speech to slam home secretary Priti Patel for her handling of Ukraine’s ongoing refugee crisis. 

“A world-class director is a visionary empowered to change the world with a story that they are burning to tell,” he told the audience, as he prepared to announce the award for best director.

He added: “It’s no surprise that Priti Patel, on her debut feature Hostile Environment, found enormous problems, and that her follow-up movie, All Refugees Are Welcome but Some Are More Welcome than Others, is a complete nightmare.”

It was when introducing a spine-tingling performance by CODA’s Emilia Jones of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, which was accompanied by sign language interpreters, that Wilson received her biggest laugh of the night.

“In this performance there are two different interpreters,” she told the audience. “One is signing ASL, which is American Sign Language, and one of them is signing BSL which is British Sign Language.

“Luckily, though, in all sign languages, this is the gesture for Putin,” she added, raising her middle finger to the camera. 

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