Timothy Spall’s Bafta Film Awards snub will have Mr Turner turning in his grave

Spall's omission from the best actor category is embarrassing for Bafta and unfair on him, says Ben Dowell

Poor Timothy Spall must have choked on his sausage and egg this morning.


The British actor, who is deemed a very strong Oscar contender for his role as painter JMW Turner in Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner, hasn’t even been shortlisted for a Bafta Film Award in this morning’s nominations.

The Cannes jury thought he was worth a gong, awarding him best actor at this year’s film festival on the Croisette (on winning, he admitted that he was going to need a “banger” breakfast to recover from celebrating so that’s how I know what he eats first thing).

But if even us Brits cannot put him up for one of our own prizes, then what chance has he got with the Yanks when Oscar time comes around?

Even worse, Leigh himself isn’t on the list either – with none of the film’s four nominations coming in the major categories.

Bafta awards host Stephen Fry admitted this morning that Spall’s omission was something of a surprise. And I have to say, I agree. I thought Mr Turner was a moving, revelatory and powerful film that was carried almost single-handedly by Spall’s magisterial performance as the 19th-century painter.

He poured his heart and soul into it, even spending three years learning to paint in order to fully get to grips with the role.

Yes, it is easy to mock Mike Leigh for getting his actors to live and breathe his parts – a distinctive style which can lead to some mannered performances (one of my favourite stories told by Spall about playing Turner was that he inhabited the role to such a degree that during filming he went to buy a bottle of wine in an east London boozer and asked the barman in pure JMW Turner-speak: “Are you a purveyor of wine?”) But there is no doubt in this case: Mr Turner is a heavyweight and important film and Spall’s performance a brilliant one.

Surely its star ranks alongside the other Bafta nominees – Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)?

Perhaps Bafta just don’t like him. While he has been nominated in the past, Spall has not won a Bafta in his 35-year career.


These things can hinge on just a few votes but, whatever the reason, the omission is certainly embarrassing for Bafta and unfair on Spall. And Mr Turner himself must be turning in his grave.