Bafta Awards 2016
Courtesy of Film Movement/Sony/20th Century Fox

Despite the ever-increasing proximity between the Oscars and the British Academy of Film and Televison Arts awards, Bafta still remains a terrific reminder of the British brand. But the love in this year’s noms has been given to a host of veterans: Ridley Scott, Maggie Smith, Kate Winslet, Julie Walters and Mark Rylance have already notched up a collective 33 Bafta nominations. The British Academy Film Awards take place Feb. 14 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London.

That’s not to say the fresh blood isn’t there, but perhaps increasing overlap in Oscar and Bafta conversations have limited the expectation for the Brit awards to serve as a platform for discovery.

“Since Bafta has repositioned itself very deliberately and positively to overlap with the Oscar conversation, the consequence has been that the opportunity to profile exciting or emerging talents has been limited,” says British Film Institute Film Fund director Ben Roberts. “There’s a reason why there is rising star, outstanding debut (by a British writer, director or producer) and outstanding British film categories, which all seem to become the automatic home for anything new or uniquely British.

“But it does afford opportunity for range, which is good in the rest of the awards sections.”

Nominees for this year’s rising star Bafta, which is voted by the public, include three Brits: Bel Powley, John Boyega (pictured) and Taron Egerton. London-born Powley was the breakout star in the Sundance hit “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” was in Drake Doremus’ “Equals” and has been cast alongside Elle Fanning in upcoming Percy Shelley-Mary Shelley love affair story “A Storm in the Stars,” while Boyega most recently starred in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Egerton’s resume includes Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “Legend,” and is set to star with Emma Roberts and Kevin Spacey in “Billionaire Boys Club” and musical toon “Sing” with Scarlett Johansson and Matthew McConaughey, the latter of which is directed by Brit helmer Garth Jennings.

“Our actors are so exportable so that really helps the whole ecology of the independent market.”
Ben Roberts

Debut by a British writer, director or producer noms have been given to Alex Garland (“Ex Machina”), Debbie Tucker Green (“Second Coming”), Stephen Fingleton (“The Survivalist”), Naji Abu Nowar and Rupert Lloyd (“Theeb”), plus Sean McAllister and Elhum Shakerifar (“A Syrian Love Story”).

“We’re seeing that the quality of new filmmaking aspiration and ambition is really high in the U.K. because the bar is constantly being raised in terms of originality,” says Roberts, who points to helmers such as Ben Wheatley, Yann Demange and Scottish director Colm McCarthy. “Cast-wise, we’re fortunate enough to have a talent pool that is prepared to operate in a mixed economy and who are readily employable in the U.S. but who will also mix that up with some more independent work. Our actors are so exportable so that really helps the whole ecology of the independent market.”

Thesps to keep an eye on include Manish Dayal (“The Hundred-Foot Journey”) of just wrapped BFI-backed “Viceroy’s House,” directed by Gurinder Chadha and starring Gillian Anderson, Michael Gambon and Hugh Bonneville. There’s Ellie Bamber (“The Falling”), who has been cast in Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams. Barry Keoghan, who featured in “’71,” will share the screen with Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson in “Tresspass Against Us,” while Joe Alwyn has in post Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” and “The Sense of an Ending” with Charlotte Rampling and Michelle Dockery.

As for directors, Wheatley remains inimitable. “High Rise,” based on J.G. Ballard’s 1975 tower-block thriller and starring Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons, hits screens in 2016. Wheatley has just wrapped “Free Fire,” with Oscar nominee Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and Sam Riley.

Fresh Brit talent is there, but Blighty’s kudofest is not the be all and end all.

Still, says Roberts, “When you’re sitting there in the room on the night and you see who goes onto the podium, you do realize that the penetration of British talent goes deeper than we think.”

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