With no pomp, the focus was solely on the talent
Like so much else in this most worrying of years, Sunday night’s IFTA Film & Drama awards ceremony had to be curtailed because of Covid-19.
No Mansion House. No red carpet. No celebrities decked out in their finery, posing and pouting in a blizzard of camera flashes (and that’s only the men).
Just host Deirdre O’Kane, sans live audience, in a Virgin Media studio in Ballymount, with the nominees joining in by video link. This no-frills approach made for a tighter, shorter show; skip the ad breaks and the whole thing clocked in at a smidgen over an hour.
It was a starrier one, too. The line-up of famous faces — most of whom would probably have been otherwise engaged were we living in normal times — presenting the awards virtually included Ruth Negga, Pierce Brosnan, Daisy Ridley, Robert Sheehan, the Liams Neeson and Cunningham, and Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal.
In the evening’s biggest coup, the master himself, Martin Scorsese, presented the awards for the 2019 and 2020 best films, charmingly announcing: “And the I, F, T, A goes to...”
Many television shows have struggled to adapt to the new — hopefully impermanent — conditions forced upon the industry by the pandemic.
Perversely, these constrained IFTA awards turned out to be a far more enjoyable viewing experience than usual, not least because of wonderfully spontaneous moments like best leading actor (film) winner Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s acceptance speech from his home being disrupted by his and his wife’s lovely kids.
Nobody wanted things to be this way, of course, no more than anyone wants more sickness, more death, more closures, more job losses and more restrictions. Only a crass idiot would go as far as describing Covid-19 as a kind of blessing in disguise for an annual event that had become jaded in recent years.
Yet the absence of all the bloated pomp and ceremony, all the smug self-congratulation and back-slapping that goes with any awards night, meant we could concentrate on what the IFTA awards are supposed to be about: celebrating Irish film and television talent.
There’s an awful lot of it to celebrate (I’ll leave it to my colleagues who write about big-screen matters to chew over the winners in the film categories).
Like anyone else, I have my favourites. I don’t begrudge the terrific Andrew Scott his leading actor award for Black Mirror: Smithereens; that said, I’d have loved to have seen Brendan Gleeson win for Mr Mercedes. His Bill Hodges is one of the most undervalued performances in one of the most undervalued US series — at least by Emmy voters.
On the other hand, I was absolutely thrilled to see Niamh Algar and Mark O’Halloran rewarded for their performances in The Virtues. Both of them were astonishing in one of the most heartbreakingly powerful dramas I’ve ever seen.
It’s great to be reminded of just how many talented people, working in front of and behind the camera, this small country has produced. At the same time, it’s dispiriting that so few of the TV projects they’ve worked on were actually generated in this country.
For instance, director Dearbhla Walsh and writer Mark O’Rowe won their IFTA awards for, respectively, The Handmaid’s Tale and the British series Temple. Jessie Buckley’s supporting actress award was for Sky and HBO’s Chernobyl.
Even some series that were filmed here originated in other countries. The Virtues was made by Channel 4. Dublin Murders, which was nominated for several awards, was a BBC-Starz series. RTÉ became involved only late in the process.
Talent will always go where the work is, and there’s clearly no shortage of work for Irish talent in Britain and America.
Back here, meanwhile, RTÉ continues to foist dross like Finding Joy on us and plans a second season of the insipid Acceptable Risk. The irony of the IFTA awards is increasingly difficult to ignore.