Bafta awards Mike Leigh a fellowship following Mr Turner snub

The British Academy is to garland the director with its highest accolade – but will this make up for ignoring his acclaimed biopic about JMW Turner?

Mike Leigh, the celebrated British auteur whose critically acclaimed film Mr Turner has been overlooked in the recent awards rounds, is to receive special recognition at the Baftas on Sunday.

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The director is to receive a Bafta fellowship. This is the highest accolade that the organisation can bestow and is awarded “in recognition of an outstanding and exceptional contribution to film, television or games”. The day before the ceremony Leigh will be the guest of honour at a special Bafta lunch at The Savoy.

Whether or not this will make up for the fact that his feted film starring Timothy Spall as painter JMW Turner has not been nominated in any of the four major categories – best film director, actor or actress – is another question. Mr Turner was also overlooked in the Oscar nominations.

Many in the film world were surprised that Mr Turner had been snubbed, with the best film nominations going to Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. The best director nominees are Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), James Marsh (The Theory of Everything) and Damien Chazelle (Whiplash).

Spall has also not received a best actor nomination in either the Baftas or the Oscars, despite winning the best actor award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for Mr Turner. In fact, the actor has not won a Bafta in his 35-year career and was pipped to a nomination this time by Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything).

Previous Bafta fellows include Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Sean Connery, Elizabeth Taylor, Stanley Kubrick, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Lee, Martin Scorsese and Alan Parker. Helen Mirren received the fellowship at last year’s film awards.

Leigh responded to the news with the statement: “What a privilege to be honoured with the Bafta fellowship. I’m moved, delighted and surprised.”

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The British Academy film awards air on BBC1 at 9pm on Sunday February 8th