From almost the moment British comedian Jack Whitehall ascended the BAFTA Britannia Awards stage at the Beverly Hilton Hotel Friday night, he launched into a sharp-elbowed spiel equal parts defending and ridiculing the UK-skewing awards ceremony’s right to exist.
On the dissing end, he gave props to “a roomful of Brits who got out the moment they could”: the tea-loving, Hollywood-based expatriate entertainment industry contingent who comprise a significant voting block during the span of months known as Awards Season. Then, Whitehall got to the point of the evening, lavishing attention on “six people who deserve — nay — demand, a firm British handshake”: CBS talk show grandee James Corden, Star Wars supernova Harrison Ford, Pirates of the Caribbean pinup-turned-humanitarian Orlando Bloom, the Oscars’ living embodiment of excellence Meryl Streep, comedian du jour Amy Schumer, and back-to-back James Bond sequel director Sam Mendes.
Streep was introduced by director Stephen Frears, helmer of her 2016 biopic Florence Foster Jenkins and took her moment in the Stanley Kubrick Award for Excellence in Film spotlight to comment that only male honorees had won the statuette before her. “I am honored to receive this award that has been given to a distinguished group of men and… men,” she said to laughter and applause from the crowd.
From there, the Iron Lady star launched into a sheepishly valedictory shout-out of the many directors of her films, obliquely acknowledging her most recent film — August’s critical and commercial misfire Ricki and the Flash — before bringing the speech geographically home. “I began my career 40 years ago in England,” Streep said from the stage. “And if Stephen does a good job, I will not have ended it last summer.”
Up next, Trumbo star Bryan Cranston introduced Corden, who transplanted from London to host The Late Late Show just over a year ago. Prior to crossing the Atlantic, Cranston noted, Corden had enjoyed supernova success as a sitcom star and theatrical performer in the West End comedy musical One Man, Two Guvnors.
“James Corden is a man who tries his hand at everything and is a success,” Cranston noted. Now, “his British sensibility is spreading to America.”
Corden, for his part, launched into a funny bit about how the previous honoree found him sexually desirable. “Streep, you’re an animal!” he said from the stage.
Handed the award for excellence in directing, Oscar winner Mendes — who directed the $1.1 billion-grossing Bond fiim Skyfall and arrived in L.A. fresh off an international press tour for his second 007 movie, Spectre (which hits theaters Nov. 6) — recited a list of “10 tips for a young director who is taking on an acting franchise.”
“No. 1: Get in touch with your inner 12-year-old. No. 2: You can only ever point the camera at one thing at a time. No. 3: You are playing roulette with someone else’s money. If you’re going to bet it all on black, you’d better be able to explain why. No. 4: Making an action sequence is only interesting if you’re in the cutting room. Up until then, it is literally the most tedious thing you will ever do. No. 5: On the day, be prepared. But also be prepared to make sh– up. No. 6: Tune out the people who said they’ve never done a big movie. If they’re any good, they’ll learn. Just like I did. No. 7: You need to tune out the white noise. You cannot please everyone. No. 8: Tarantino, Nolan, Scorsese, Greengrass, J.J. Abrams, Paul Thomas Anderson all still shoot on film. There is a reason. No. 9: Always try to surf the big wave. But be prepared to wipe out. But when you catch it, it feels like nothing else. And No. 10: when you get excited, don’t be afraid to leap out of your chair — and sing the Bond theme,” Mendes said of his hard won experience of directing back-to-back 007 movies for the last five years.
By way of introducing honoree Schumer, Ted and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane noted how the famously ribald actress and comic rose to the forefront of pop culture with frank discussions of sexuality. “Amy’s vagina is like Benghazi,” MacFarlane said to gigantic laughs and a few gasps from the crowd. “A few years ago, no one knew it existed.”
Schumer accepted the statuette with an extended monologue about anal sex, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the pressure on women in Hollywood to be attractive. “Orlando, I’ll go with you,” she said to Bloom. “We work so hard to look good to men but — you guys look disgusting.”
Robert Downey Jr. turned up to award Orlando Bloom a humanitarian award for being a UNICEF ambassador and repeatedly traveling to war-torn countries in the aid of such relief organizations as Global Green, the Children’s Defense Fund and Malaria No More. But he also took the opportunity to rib the Lord of the Rings star for his reported physical tussle with Justin Bieber over Kendall Jenner in Ibiza last summer.
“I actually did not connect with Justin Bieber,” Bloom said. “I do not know Kendall Jenner. But if anyone has her number, I’d love it.”
Closing out the evening, Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams arrived to give franchise cornerstone Harrison Ford the award for worldwide contribution to entertainment. But first, in a taped speech, Steven Spielberg directly addressed the star. “I can’t wait to work with you on Indiana Jones 5,” he said. “This is not an announcement, just my fervent hope.”
Ford accepted the honor with a kind of shrugging humility. “I wanted to be an actor because I could not imagine what it would be like to have a real job,” he said from the stage. “I’m very grateful for the life I’ve had — and grateful to be in the presence of all the people who have won awards tonight.”
The Britannia Awards will air on the Pop Network.