Baftas 2024: Cillian Murphy scoops best actor award for Oppenheimer

Paul Mescal loses out to Robert Downey jnr as best supporting actor at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards

Cillian Murphy has been named best actor at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards, in London, for his performance as the eponymous father of the atomic bomb in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, which also won the award for best film. He therefore remains on track to become the second Irish person – and the first born in the country – to win best actor at the Oscars. (Daniel Day-Lewis won as an Irish citizen.)

The Cork actor beat Barry Keoghan, nominated for Saltburn, at Sunday evening’s ceremony, which was hosted by David Tennant at the Royal Festival Hall. Already a winner at the Golden Globes, Murphy now progresses to the Screen Actors Guild Awards in a state of hopeful expectation.

“Oppenheimer was this colossally knotty, complex character, and he meant different things to different people,” Murphy said. “One man’s monster is another man’s hero. That’s why I love movies . . . as a place to interrogate and investigate that complexity.”

It was also a good evening for Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things, which was produced by the Irish company Element Pictures. Its star Emma Stone was named best actress, and the film also picked up other key prizes, including for production design and visual effects, on its way to five Baftas.


“Our incredible cast and crew, I cannot imagine this film with anyone else,” Stone said from the podium. “What you brought to life every single day, I am in awe of all of you.” Robbie Ryan, among Ireland’s most celebrated cinematographers, had a decent chance in that category for Poor Things, but Hoyte van Hoytema took the prize for Oppenheimer.

The Irish producers Medb Riordan and Shirley O’Connor were among the team winning the award for outstanding British debut, for Savanah Leaf’s Earth Mama. A hit at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, the film follows a pregnant woman’s travails in the Bay Area of California. David Beckham was there to present their award.

Oppenheimer topped the nominations table, with seven wins. To the surprise of nobody, Nolan took best director at a gallop. “I have so many people to thank for this,” he said. “An incredible cast, led by the peerless Cillian Murphy. To Emma Thomas, our producer, I love you.”

Robert Downey jnr, a strong favourite for the Nolan film, slipped past Paul Mescal, nominated for All of Us Strangers, to take the best-supporting-actor prize. “I played a guy named Tony in the MCU for about 12 years,” a witty Downey jnr said, referring to his role as Iron Man. “And then recently that dude Chris Nolan suggested I attempt an understated approach as a last-ditch effort to resurrect my dwindling credibility.”

There were a few surprises. Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, a searing study of life next to Auschwitz at the height of its malign efficiency, expectedly won best British film, but its triumph over Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall as best film not in the English language will have disappointed the team behind that fast-rising French picture.

The Zone of Interest also deservedly snatched best sound from Oppenheimer, which had been the big favourite. Anatomy of a Fall, a courtroom drama that beat Zone of Interest into second place at Cannes last year, triumphed in best original screenplay. The writers of Oppenheimer and Poor Things will have been surprised to see American Fiction, a sharp literary satire, come through the middle to take best adapted screenplay. Da’Vine Joy Randolph, looking unbeatable at the Oscars, won best supporting actress for the charming period comedy The Holdovers.

The British and the American academies share a large number of voters. As a result, the Baftas have often been a good predictor of the Oscars. But Murphy will be aware that, last year, thanks largely to The Banshees of Inisherin being preferred over Everything Everywhere All at Once on this side of the Atlantic, not a single one of the acting winners at the Baftas converted at the Oscars.

Murphy remains a favourite for the US prize, but Paul Giamatti, much admired in The Holdovers, will give him a serious run. Should the American win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which he easily could, then the Oscar race will go right to the wire at the Dolby Theatre, in Hollywood, on Sunday, March 10th.

After a slightly shaky show in 2023 that featured a notoriously eccentric rap by Ariana DeBose, this year’s Baftas went off smoothly. Tennant, an experienced stage actor, hosted with some confidence and charm. Sophie Ellis-Bextor was there to perform Murder on the Dancefloor, her 2001 single, which returned to the top of the charts following its appearance in Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn.

There was great support for the actor and director Samantha Morton, who, a little earlier in life than most honourees for the highest award, was presented with the Bafta fellowship. “I dedicate this award to every child in care today,” Morton, who was herself a ward of court as a child, said in a moving speech. “Or who was in care. Or who’s suffering. Or who didn’t survive. Thank you.”

Sadly, Ayo Edebiri, the American actor who recently declared herself a daughter of Ireland, lost out to Mia McKenna-Bruce, star of How to Have Sex, for the EE Rising Star award.

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Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist