Why Cilla should win the Bafta Radio Times Audience Award

Anyone who's ever had a heart should get behind Sheridan Smith and Aneurin Barnard's drama based on Cilla Black's singing career


Who would you like to see win the Radio Times Audience Award at this year’s television Baftas? Each of the RadioTimes.com team has their favourite. Here, Susanna Lazarus explains why you should get behind Cilla… 


Has there ever been a better vehicle to showcase Sheridan Smith’s many talents than Cilla? In my opinion, no – her performance was so spell-bounding, many critics took great pleasure in labelling her vocals better than those of Cilla Black herself.

There’s no doubt 33-year-old Smith is a chameleon – from Janet in Two Pints of Lager to besieged Mrs Biggs, she’s long been celebrated by the British television industry, but Cilla saw her act her socks off, not simply portraying the Liverpudlian singer and TV presenter – she became her.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that, on paper, ITV’s three-part drama didn’t promise much. 180 minutes of television dedicated to the career of a singer whose two number ones came in the sixties? Ask half my friends and I’ll wager that, while they’ve watched a lorra lorra Blind Date, they’d struggle to name a Cilla Black hit.

But writer Jeff Pope (Philomena) found so much more in Cilla’s story. Opening with the early, heady days of Liverpool’s famed Cavern Club and the young, “swinging Cilla’s” connection with that scene’s best-known exports The Beatles, the drama went on to explore not just the singer, but her relationships with the two most important men in her life: manager, boyfriend and eventual husband Bobby and the man who guided her to greatness, Brian Epstein (yes, him of Beatles fame).

Played by The White Queen’s Aneurin Barnard, Bobby – the patient presence throughout feisty Cilla’s turbulent rise to fame – exposed the soft, vulnerable side to Smith’s ambitious young starlet in a romance made all the more touching for our knowledge that it lasted decades until his death in 1999.

But it wasn’t until the drama’s third and final instalment that Ed Stoppard (Any Human Heart) got the opportunity to showcase his acting mettle as Epstein who, as The Beatles drifted apart, wrestled with his inner demons and closeted homosexuality. The pay-off generated from matching his story against Cilla’s – the anxious, bubbly singer supported by her cautious yet troubled manager – meant this drama packed a real punch as it reached its emotionally-charged conclusion.

And then there’s Sheridan Smith. Nominated for a leading actress Bafta (her second if she triumphs on the night), she quite simply lights up every scene she’s in, and not just thanks to her flame red hair. She may have a hugely talented supporting cast but this drama ducks and dives in sync with Smith’s infectious on-screen presence. In my opinion, her star has never shone more brightly.

Vote for Cilla in the Bafta Radio Times Audience Award here

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