Baftas 2023: it’s back to business as usual for these scandalously safe awards

All Quiet On The Western Front (Netflix/PA) (PA Media)
All Quiet On The Western Front (Netflix/PA) (PA Media)

So it’s back to business as usual then I guess. Last night, at the Baftas, the German First World War epic, All Quiet on the Western Front, won seven prizes, and to say I’m gutted would be an understatement.

There were three flawless and euphorically jolting movies up for Best Film. And then there was Edward Berger’s adaptation of the Erich Maria Remarque novel.

All Quiet on the Western Front isn’t bad. Stylish, well-acted and beautifully lit, it manages to wrong-foot us, at the start, taking us from the trenches to the heart of several starkly efficient factories. When we realise what the German government is up to, we tingle with shock. Unfortunately, that’s the one and only surprise. The beleaguered characters are types, the directing settles into routine rhythms and the anti-war message is hardly original, if universal. This Netflix movie keeps being described as “relevant” to Putin’s war on Ukraine, but the comparison is unhelpful – what do desperate Ukrainians have in common with the major Allied powers? Nothing.

In 2021 and 2022, in the Best Film and Best Director categories, all sorts of bright and bold choices were made by the Bafta voters. But cast your mind back to the year before. In 2020, Parasite lost out to 1917 and Parasite’s director, Bong Joon-ho, was gazumped by Sam Mendes. Parasite was perfect, 1917 was perfectly average. Here we are again.

It’s outrageous that Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s gritty multiverse caper, Everything Everywhere All at Once, only won for Best Editing. It’s bizarre that Todd Field’s ingenious world building in the churning MeToo parable Tár, has been overlooked. And it’s depressing that this year’s Baftas, in the end, were So White.

I’m pleased for Blanchett, whose taut, wiry presence dominates Tár. I love her and anything that gets more people to see that movie is a good thing. But Michelle Yeoh and Danielle Deadwyler are every bit as commanding in Everything Everywhere All at Once and Till respectively. No Black or Asian woman has ever won a Best Actress film Bafta. When there’s nothing to choose between three immaculate performances, why not seize the chance to make history?

The Bafta bunch did get some things right. The four prizes that went to Martin McDonagh’s black comedy The Banshees of Inisherin were all deserved, even if Outstanding British Film is a crazy label to slap on such an obviously Irish production. Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan (who adorably said after his win that he wasn’t going to any parties because he had to get home to his son) were worthy Best Supporting winners; Keoghan, as the apparently feckless Dominic, is particularly extraordinary.

Scotland’s Charlotte Wells landed the award for Outstanding Debut By a British Writer, Director or Producer. Quite right, too. I reckon Aftersun, in which a daughter voyages around her anguished father, is this century’s Citizen Kane. All in all, it was a decent night for Celts. And is there anyone on the planet not beguiled by Austin Butler, who’s so mercurial in the biopic Elvis, and so charming when collecting prizes?

There were plenty of worthy winners on Sunday night. Just not enough. Here’s hoping things go differently at the Oscars. If All Quiet on the Western Front wins big, I’ll be the one in black, keening like a banshee.