If Kenneth Branagh is feeling slightly disappointed today, one could hardly blame him.
Despite leading the nominations at this year’s British Independent Film Awards with 11 nods for his cinematic ode to Belfast, the picture did not pick up a single gong.
Boiling Point, which equalled Belfast with its tally of nominations, scooped four awards at the ceremony on Sunday night. But the big winner was After Love by the film-maker Aleem Khan, which won six awards, including best British independent film and best director.
Belfast had picked up nods for its cast, with Caitriona Balfe, Dame Judi Dench, Ciaran Hinds and young Jude Hill all in the running, but Hill – considered a hot favourite to win breakthrough performance - lost out to Nell Barlow for Sweetheart.
Since Branagh’s semi-autobiographical Belfast premiered at the 48th Telluride Film Festival back in September, it has won numerous awards and nominations and there has been much talk of potential Oscar glory. At various film festivals, it has scooped audience awards, including at Middleburg and Newport Beach and it picked up the prestigious People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Just last week, Belfast earned nine nominations from the Hollywood Critics Association.
Last year, the psychological horror film Saint Maud led the pack at the British Independent Film Awards with 17 nods, scooping only two gongs on the night for best cinematography and best debut director. The film had premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2019 but – significantly – failed to pick up the People’s Choice Award. That went instead to Jojo Rabbit, which, in turn, was nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards.
Only two films which have won the top gong at the British Independent Film Awards have progressed to win the best picture Oscar - Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech. Plenty more have missed out on BIFA accolades over the years but have enjoyed BAFTA and/or Oscar triumphs, not to mention commercial success - Nil by Mouth, Mrs Henderson Presents, The Last King of Scotland, The Queen, Notes on a Scandal and Philomena among them.
On the other hand, it’s worth noting that past recipients of the People’s Choice Award at Toronto have gone on to win Oscars, such as Life is Beautiful, American Beauty, Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, 12 Years a Slave, La La Land, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Green Book and Nomadland.
Veteran movie writer and lecturer Mike Catto says Branagh should not be too disheartened at the results of the British Independent Film Awards as he does not believe they are an indicator of what is to come at next year’s Academy Awards ceremony.
“There are now so many film festivals and awards that it is quite difficult to keep up with them all,” said Catto.
“But the important one is the Toronto Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award, which Belfast has already won.
“The last few years, it has pretty much indicated what film is going to win the best picture award, so Branagh can take something from that.”
Catto said he would be surprised if Belfast didn’t score at least two Oscar nominations.
“In terms of Oscar nods, I think Belfast should do pretty well,” he said.
“The only issue is that much like the semi-autobiographical Mexican film Roma, which won at the Oscars, Belfast is shot in black and white and set in a time of trouble, so it might be considered too similar.
“But I don’t think the British Independent Film Awards hint at what’s to come at the Oscars next year. The BIFAs were set up, not as opponents to the BAFTAs, but to get behind smaller feature films, documentaries and shorts that weren’t being pushed enough in the direction of major awards.
“As we know, the British film industry has expanded tremendously. Until a few years ago, the BAFTAs were held after the Oscars and were seen as a showcase for only British or James Bond films.
“But that’s all changed, too. BAFTA has come up in the world and embraces a wider range of diversity.
“It will be interesting to see how Belfast does in the BAFTA nominations, but I definitely think it will pick up a few Oscar nods. These latest awards won’t make a difference to that and having so many nominations will only bring more kudos to the film when it comes to promoting it.”