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There’s a reason It’s a Sin didn’t win a Bafta – it wasn’t good enough

Was Matthew Macfadyen better in Succession than the three supporting actors nominated for It’s A Sin? It’s a clear yes, from this critic of film and television

Caspar Salmon
Monday 09 May 2022 17:45
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Related video: It’s a Sin Official Trailer

Cries of injustice, accusations of homophobia and a general climate of hair-pulling fury were unleashed onto Elon Musk’s latest plaything in response to the news that It’s A Sin had not won a Bafta.

In an early, tone-setting report, a writer for the Guardian termed the awards “a staggering failure”, adding that It’s A Sin’s “lack of success is genuinely bewildering.”

A prominent TV commentator wrote: “It is ASTOUNDING that they won nothing at the Bafta TV Awards tonight. I am speechless.” Other opinions on the subject, from LGBTQ+ writer-commentators and Twitter laypersons alike have been no less fiery; animated with the same nebulous idea that homophobia is behind the decision made by Bafta’s various juries to disregard a programme about gay characters during the AIDS crisis in Britain.

Now, far be it from this writer to call for composure – I enjoy an online dust-up as much as the next dopamine addict – but it may prove useful to look at the issue with a little more disinterest.

To wit: the TV Baftas are segmented into two separate ceremonies, one for craft (editing, casting, etc) and another for more crowd-pleasing categories such as acting, presenting and being iconic. It’s A Sin had already won two Baftas in the craft department at the ceremony held last month – and not minor ones either, since it netted Best Editing and Best Director.

The programme was nominated for a further six awards last night across four categories: Best Mini-Series, Best Actor (Olly Alexander), Best Actress (Lydia West) and Best Supporting Actor (Omari Douglas, David Carlyle, and Callum Scott Howells).

This is the bit where things get rather head-spinning, so by all means take a seat before reading on, as I invite readers to consider entertaining the possibility that, in those four categories, It’s A Sin was not as good as the eventual winner.

Was the performance by Sean Bean, who before yesterday’s victory had already won one TV Bafta and been nominated for another over the course of his nearly 40-year screen career, better than that of Olly Alexander? Having seen both, I can say without a doubt that it is – but even if you were inclined to disagree, which is your right, it seems rather uncharitable to suppose that the jury that made the call was not acting in equal good faith.

Was Matthew Macfadyen better in Succession than the three supporting actors nominated for It’s A Sin? It’s a clear yes, from this critic of film and television; which leads me to conjecture that other industry figures might very well have come to the same conclusion last night. Best Actress? Best Mini-Series? Jodie Comer and Time (by multiple Bafta award-winner Jimmy McGovern) aren’t exactly thieving upstarts.

The fact is that It’s A Sin has already received more than enough adulation, since it aired to a veritable tornado of breathless reviews, tweets, profiles and op-eds early last year.

Even the show’s rare detractors would be hard-pushed to argue that the show is anything other than a landmark of contemporary British TV – pioneering in the way that, for the first time, it dramatised the AIDS crisis on prime-time UK television.

The welcome meted out to the show, and the way it genuinely did cross over to a mainstream audience, would seem to scupper claims of industrial bigotry. It’s tedious to say, but perhaps It’s A Sin actually did do battle with its peers on about as level a playing-field as you can get – and came up short at the last.

Queer people have not long been used to having films and TV shows that reflect the multiplicity of our lived experiences back at us, and so it is right that the issues of how we are depicted in popular culture, and how the arts and media industries reward members of our community, are hotly debated.

But legal homosexuality in the UK is as recent a development as the invention of handheld calculators – and equal marriage isn’t even as old as Blue Ivy Carter – so it’s natural that we stumble a little as we litigate these questions. We are still experiencing a pulsating period of adjustment to newfound gains.

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It’s also normal that as LGBTQ+ people, we develop heartfelt attachments to stories that speak to our communities and our experiences – perhaps to an extent that can be excessive, simply because of how starved we have been.

Heartstopper, Netflix’s latest queer-focused teen drama, has already met with It’s A Sin levels of enthusiasm from various queer elders (a category starting at 30+ online): an enthusiasm which the show is far too slight to be able to shoulder, being merely a more highly-budgeted, rainbow-inflected, after-school drama for teens, à la Byker Grove.

As our cultural landscape continues to shift and turn, perhaps our reactions will become more dispassionate, more critical, as we can begin to feel increasingly secure that we haven’t been discriminated against – but have instead been given the equal consideration we demanded.

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