British Newcomers

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Newcomers are essential to the regeneration of cinema – they bring new stories, but also new ways of telling old stories. Fundamental to our ethos at BIFA is promoting those who do not have an extensive body of work behind them, but who have made something that shows skill, passion and promise for more great films in the future.


A key tenet of promoting new voices is allowing people with particular experiences to tell stories from their world. This is particularly true of Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not A Witch, for which Nyoni is nominated for Best Director, Debut Director, Screenplay and Debut Screenwriter (as well as Best British Independent Film). Being Zambian-born and now based in Wales, Nyoni has rooted her film in her native culture, but given it a humour and dramatic sensibility that extend beyond those borders and take in diverse cinematic influences. Upon watching you understand that no-one else but her could have written that story, and this is where film can be at its most exciting.


We don’t have to travel great distances to find lived experience; God’s Own Country writer/director Francis Lee, nominated in the same categories as Nyoni, shot his film down the road from the farm where he grew up, and currently lives in a wooden hut on a hill in Brontë country in Yorkshire. His conviction in his story is evidently stronger for having lived parts of it. This extends to the casting of the film, especially that of Best Actor-nominated Alec Secareanu as farmhand Gheorghe Ionescu; Secareanu’s Romanian nationality gives him an insight into part of Gheorghe’s life that would be hidden from others. His relative lack of experience in British film also plays a part; he is a newcomer to this world, just as to that of the film.

Lived experiences do not have to be so singular; in Chubby Funny and Daphne, the lives of two London-dwelling millennials are displayed in a comic manner that will be wholly #relatable for millions of young people living in cities. In their respective films, Most Promising Newcomer nominee (and writer/director/actor) Harry Michell and Best Actress nominee Emily Beecham act out the trials of contemporary urban life with a conviction that only comes from having had similar experiences. It allows something other than humour to take place too; a recognition of a life like ours.

There are also example of real lives put on screen as a way of breathing new life into cinema. In her self-directed documentary Half Way, Daisy-May Hudson tells how when her family were evicted from their home, she chose to start chronicling their experiences on camera as a way of taking back control of the narrative. By allowing new voices to tell their stories, we give power to them – power that may have been cruelly or unfairly removed.

An exciting part of new voices in cinema is seeing people willing to try new things; at BIFA, we love the rebels. The unique comic and dramatic tone of Best Debut Director nominee Deborah Haywood’s Pin Cushion only comes when a writer/director is willing to chance their arm. By sticking to her vision, Haywood has got a strong cast on the same page with the tone of the film, even though they all engage with it in different ways. Delightful moments such as the appearance of Girls Aloud’s Nadine Coyle have much more impact when coming from a fresh voice. It is particularly special when several new voices collaborate, as here; by casting a new talent in Most Promising Newcomer Lily Newmark, and working with Breakthrough Producer nominee Gavin Humphries, Haywood and her team have the power of many new perspectives.

There are also actors making a name for themselves by taking a risk. Just Charlie was a first film role for Harry Gilby; the lead part of a transgender girl coming to understand her identity is an important but daunting one to take on. Gilby’s excellent performance holds a freshness that aligns with the often ignored subject matter of the film. By giving space to newcomers, we allow such roles to be performed.

A newcomer can also be someone trying their hand at a different skill. Johnny Harris is widely celebrated for his acting, from such memorable parts as Mick in the This Is England series. In watching Jawbone, you see how Harris’ writing of suffering boxer Jimmy informs his portrayal of the character, opening up a new facet to his career. It also allows for new collaborations, both with other newcomers – director Thomas Napper is up for Debut Director – and with established people – mod legend Paul Weller was nominated for Best Music for his first full film score. Similarly Cosmo Jarvis, Most Promising Newcomer nominee for playing Sebastian in Lady Macbeth, has a prolific career as a musician, having written hundreds of songs from a young age and released four studio albums. Changing tracks to acting allows his understanding of performance to inform his role.

Indeed Lady Macbeth provided the opportunity for many talented people to step up to greater roles. Director William Oldroyd, nominated for Best Director & Debut Director as well as Best Film, had made shorts in recent years but takes his chance at his first feature with impressive style. Breakthrough Producer nominee Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly is an Oscar nominee for the short film Head Over Heels, and you can see her influence in the coherence of the film. Best Actress nominee Florence Pugh had a supporting role in Carol Morley’s The Falling, steps up to lead here and in 2018/19 will be back on our screens in exciting projects like Stephen Merchant’s Fighting With My Family and Park Chan-wook’s miniseries The Little Drummer Girl, adapted from John Le Carré and starring Alexander Skarsgård. Screen Daily Star of Tomorrow 2017 Naomi Ackie is an East Londoner with extensive stage experience. Her dual nomination in Most Promising Newcomer and Best Supporting Actress shows that not only is new talent essential to BIFA, but that it is not considered any lesser for being new. Look at the luminaries alongside her in the Supporting Actress category: Patricia Clarkson, Kelly Macdonald, Julie Walters and Andrea Riseborough. Newcomers are just old-timers with so much exciting work to come.

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