Baftas: Breath of Yorkshire air blows through film world

With a few big names now persona non grata, this year's film awards season will be an opportunity to sweep the stage clean, the chief executive of Bafta suggested yesterday, as she revealed that one of the new brooms had come fresh from a Yorkshire sheep farm.
Josh O'Connor (left) as Johnny Saxby and Alec Secareanu as Gheorghe Ionescu in God's Own CountryJosh O'Connor (left) as Johnny Saxby and Alec Secareanu as Gheorghe Ionescu in God's Own Country
Josh O'Connor (left) as Johnny Saxby and Alec Secareanu as Gheorghe Ionescu in God's Own Country

Josh O’Connor, the star of the low-budget, independent film God’s Own Country, was named among the nominees for the EE Rising Star Award at next month’s event, the British equivalent of the Oscars.

The surprising box office success of the film, which was set and shot in the West Riding near Keighley, has put him on the cusp of international stardom.

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The 27-year-old, who hails from the West Country, plays a sheep farmer whose life is transformed by the arrival of a Romanian migrant, in a sexually-charged story that has been described as Yorkshire’s Brokeback Mountain.

Last night, its Halifax-born director, Francis Lee, told The Yorkshire Post that he was not surprised by the success of his star, whom he praised for a“heart wrenching performance that has been universally recognised worldwide”.

Mr Lee said: “Josh totally transformed himself both physically and emotionally, nailing a Yorkshire accent, losing weight, and working for weeks on hilltop farms for the preparation.”

O’Connor had been seen previously on TV dramas including Peaky Blinders and ITV’s The Durrells, in which he played the novelist Lawrence Durrell as a young man. But he said that since the release of God’s Own Country, he was receiving “lots of scripts from the States all the time, including some action stuff”.

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He is nominated for Bafta’s Rising Star award alongside four other young actors.

But as the shortlist was announced, the organisers acknowledged that old stars, not young ones, were the topic of the moment.

The actor Kevin Spacey, who has appeared five times on Bafta’s nominations list but who has been cast out by the industry in the wake of sexual assault allegations, will not be on this year’s guest list .

The producer Harvey Weinstein, who has won four Best Film awards from Bafta but who lost his seat as a trustee of the organisation following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, will also not be attending.

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Bafta’s chief executive, Amanda Berry, promised that clean-up that has ensued would not see their sins swept under the carpet.

The awards season, with the Oscars following a fortnight after the Baftas, would shine “a very bright spotlight” on the conversation around harassment and assault, she said, adding that the winner’s podium was a “powerful platform” for political speeches.

“We never say to people, ‘don’t say anything, just thank the crew’. Because if somebody feels passionately about it, they are going to say it,” she said.

“We can’t change what has happened in the past we can definitely help change what comes next.”

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Ms Berry said she had no idea about Weinstein’s alleged behaviour until it became public.

“It’s been upsetting for the industry as a whole, whenever I’ve talked to people about people who have been accused,” she said.

“With Harvey Weinstein, I think for a lot of people it has been genuinely shocking and that is why people have moved so quickly and to make change.”

Actress Florence Pugh, who is shortlisted for the Rising Star award alongside O’Connor for a breakout performance as Lady Macbeth, said she would join the chorus of disapproval, if invited on stage.

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“That is what it is for,” she said. “As much as it’s nice to get dressed up in a big blue dress and sit on a yellow sofa, that is what we are here for.”

The nominations for the other Bafta categories will be announced next Tuesday.