Maggie Smith. Am I missing something?
While her performance in Downton has been undeniably entertaining, the reasons for the role’s continuing popularity seem to fall exclusively at the feet of the scriptwriters; her cutting one-liners and breezy put-downs are pure screenplay magic. But is there really anything in the delivery of those lines that sets Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, apart from Minerva McGonagall? And yet this enjoyable yet persistently unsurprising character has been subject to no fewer than six award nominations (a Golden Globe and now a BAFTA among them), and two wins, including an Emmy. Identical to her equally award-laden (and equally bafflingly so) role as Constance, Countess of Trentham in Gosford Park, Jean Brodie it certainly ain’t.
By far the canniest acting talent among the women of Downton is Laura Carmichael, whose understated and delicate portrayal of Lady Edith is by turns touching and comical. But the Dame has the pedigree, so the Dame has the chums.
This is to say nothing of the howling nomination of Miranda “Miranda” Hart for her role as Miranda in Call the Midwife, or the startling omission of ratings favourite and critical jamboree Sherlock from Best Miniseries.
On the other hand, I don’t envy the panel trying to pick between Andrew Scott and Martin Freeman in the Best Supporting Actor category (because, excellent though their fellow nominees were, it can’t really be either of them that walks away with that creepy golden mask on a stick).
Scott’s Moriarty was electric, a batty, volatile charm-bomb akin to a cross between Mr Teatime and Graham Norton. While landing solidly in the “evil genius” archetype, he played the part with such delicious enjoyment and darkness that his scenes were more thrilling than fireworks.
However, Freeman, better known for his comedy acting and his silent expressions (the published screenplays for The Office acknowledge frequently that “Tim reacts” is the only stage direction needed to convey the moment), shows in his Watson the apparently effortless ability to switch these reactions from comic to tragic. By turns the farcical fall guy and the driving emotional force, Watson never brushes close to archetype. His closing scene in The Reichenbach Fall left a nation in tears, which, for me, should just clinch the award.
But it’s still a very close call. Because, fortunately for both of these chaps, Maggie Smith wasn’t cast as Lestrade.