Paul Mescal has won a British Academy Television Award for his performance in the hit Irish television series Normal People.
Offering a signal that awards ceremonies are returning to normal, Mescal, raised in Co Kildare, was at BBC Television Centre in west London to receive his best-actor prize in person. The performer overcame fierce competition in that race from the likes of John Boyega, nominated for Small Axe, and Josh O’Connor, up for his performance as Prince Charles in The Crown.
“It’s been pretty nuts,” said Mescal of the last year. “I am so lucky that I got to continue working to a certain capacity and this feels like a very nice way to tie it up in a bow.”
In accepting, Mescal acknowledged Element Pictures, the Irish company behind Normal People and Lenny Abrahamson, director of the show. He dedicated the Bafta to his co-star Daisy Edgar Jones and gave a moving call-out to his mum and dad. “I know everyone always says that it’s great to be nominated with such extraordinary actors,” said Mescal. “But they really, really are. They are true leaders in the field.”
Ed Guiney, who co-produced the adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel, was full of praise for his young star.
“All of us at Element are so proud of Paul,” he told The Irish Times. “The love story between his Connell and Daisy’s Marianne resonated around the world during the first lockdown in a way that took us all by surprise. It’s a brilliant tribute to him, and to his work with Daisy and Lenny, that he won in such an incredibly tough category – and particularly amazing given that it’s his first screen role. An extraordinary achievement.”
Edgar-Jones was nominated for best actress and the series was up for best mini-series at the most important television awards in Britain and Ireland. The series also received four nominations at the British Academy Television Craft Awards, presented in May. This marks the culmination of an extraordinary journey for Normal People.
First broadcast in late April of 2020, the show, detailing the awkward, sometimes painful relationship between two young people in contemporary Ireland, immediately became the signature hit of the first lockdown. BBC Three registered its best ever streaming figures with the series and, when Normal People arrived on domestic television, it registered the most-watched opening of a drama series on the RTÉ Player. It went on to receive three Primetime Emmy nominations in late 2020 and two Golden Globe nominations earlier this year.
This year’s Virgin Media Bafta television awards were presented by Richard Ayoade in a ceremony that combined the simulated with the physical. There were montages celebrating the positive televisual moments in a difficult year. A sparse, socially distanced crowd gathered in the smallest space that the awards can have ever encountered while a patchwork of screens revealed a virtual audience watching from home.
“I like things with no atmosphere,” said Ayoade to the biggest laugh of the evening. To be fair, the show worked relatively well with a few stars in the theatre and still starrier presenters such as Catherine O’Hara and Catherine Zeta Jones beaming in from remote box rooms. Reliable good sport John Snow, outgoing newsreader on Channel 4, presented an amusing tribute to some of the year’s great Zoom catastrophes.
The awards were notably diverse. Michaela Coel won best actress for her ecstatically received I May Destroy You, a sui generis series featuring a largely black British cast, and the show itself beat Small Axe, Normal People and Adult Material to best miniseries.
Coel took the opportunity to praise those industry professionals – new to the business – who ensure sex scenes are carried off in responsible and unthreatening fashion.
“I want to dedicate this award to the director of intimacy Ita O’Brien,” she said. “Thank you for your existence in our industry, for making the space safe for creating physical, emotional, and professional boundaries so that we can make work about exploitation, loss of respect, about abuse of power.” O’Brien’s family are from Clonmel.
Romesh Ranganathan, face of The Ranganation, passed out such TV royalty as Graham Norton and Claudia Winkelman to take the Bafta mask for best entertainment performance. Rakie Ayola, experienced African-Welsh actor, took best supporting actress for her turn in Anthony, the harrowing docudrama concerning the murder of black teenager Anthony Walker. Ayola referenced the boy’s mother in her speech.
“Gee Walker said to me the one reason she wanted her son’s story to be told is because she thought people might watch it and they might think about it just long enough for someone to get away,” she said.
The Big Narstie Show, presented by the eponymous former grime star, took Best Comedy and Comedy Entertainment Programme.
The big loser of the evening was probably The Crown. Nominated in four categories, Netflix’s study of the Royal Family won not a single award. The show is, perhaps, more honoured in the United States than it is at home (or in the place where it is set, anyway) . It was beaten in best drama by another show focussing on people of colour; Lennie James seemed genuinely astonished to hear that his series Save Me Too had taken the Bafta mask.
Some admirable old war horses took prizes. Casualty’s victory over such national institutions such as Coronation Street and EastEnders for best soap or continuing drama felt like an implicit tribute to the British National Health Service. The much-loved Inside No 9, a horror anthology whose reputation has grown steadily since its debut in 2014, took out Ghosts and This Country to win best-scripted comedy.
The organisers will have been happy that the hybrid event played out relatively smoothly. But they will hope to be back in a larger space next year.
BAFTA TELEVISION AWARDS 2021
Michaela Coel, I May Destroy You – Winner
Letitia Wright, Small Axe
Billie Piper, I Hate Suzie
Daisy Edgar-Jones, Normal People
Hayley Squires, Adult Material
Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
Paul Mescal, Normal People – Winner
John Boyega, Small Axe
Josh O'Connor, The Crown
Paapa Essiedu, I May Destroy You
Shaun Parkes, Small Axe
Waleed Zuaiter, Baghdad Central
Save Me Too – Winner
Gangs Of London
I Hate Suzie
Sitting In Limbo – Winner
Bbw (On The Edge)
The Windermere Children
Comedy Entertainment Programme
The Big Narstie Show – Winner
Charlie Brooker's Antiviral Wipe
Rob & Romesh Vs
The Ranganation Production
Springwatch 2020 – Winner
Life Drawing Live!
The Royal British Legion Festival Of Remembrance
The Third Day: Autumn
Virgin Media's Must-See Moment (as voted for by the public):
Britain's Got Talent: Diversity perform a routine inspired by the events of 2020 – Winner
Bridgerton: Penelope is revealed as Lady Whistledown
EastEnders: Gary kills Chantelle
Gogglebox: Reactions to Boris Johnson's press conference
Nigella's Cook, Eat, Repeat: Mee-cro-wah-vay
The Mandalorian: Luke Skywalker arrives
I May Destroy You – Winner
Reality & Constructed Factual
The School That Tried To End Racism – Winner
Masterchef: The Professionals
Race Across The World
The Write Offs
Female Performance In A Comedy Programme
Aimee Lou Wood, Sex Education – Winner
Daisy Haggard, Breeders
Daisy May Cooper, This Country
Emma Mackey Sex Education
Gbemisola Ikumelo, Famalam
Mae Martin, Feel Good
Male Performance In A Comedy Programme
Charlie Cooper, This Country – Winner
Guz Khan, Man Like Mobeen
Joseph Gilgun, Brassic
Ncuti Gatwa, Sex Education
Paul Ritter, Friday Night Dinner
Reece Shearsmith, Inside No.9
Malachi Kirby, Small Axe – Winner
Kunal Nayyar, Criminal: UK
Michael Sheen, Quiz
Micheal Ward, Small Axe
Rupert Everett, Adult Material
Tobias Menzies, The Crown
Rakie Ayola, Anthony – Winner
Helena Bonham Carter, The Crown
Leila Farzad, I Hate Suzie
Siena Kelly, Adult Material
Sophie Okonedo, Criminal: Uk
Weruche Opia, I May Destroy You
Inside No. 9 – Winner
Man Like Mobeen
Welcome To Chechnya: The Gay Purge (Storyville) – Winner
Locked In: Breaking The Silence (Storyville) – Winner
American Murder: The Family Next Door
Anton Ferdinand: Football, Racism & Me