If you are an even mildly avid Emmy observer you will have noticed some changes this year. The miniseries category is now called the “limited” series. Also the variety genre has been split into two distinct parts – the talk and sketch categories. Based on the popularity and influence of all things British, I suggest that the Academy could make a few more additions to its awards lineup.
I am using this year’s Emmy nominees to illustrate my proposals. And my first new category would be for…
Actors Who Play British People from the Olden Days. I’m surprised this hasn’t already been thought of before considering America’s enthusiasm for British period dramas throughout the years. (Masterpiece Theatre anyone?) This year Downton Abbey has received its fifth nomination as a series though it hasn’t brought home a trophy since 2011 for Outstanding Miniseries.
As for the actors, Jim Carter, who portrays Downton’s butler and the backbone of the house, Mr. Carson, has received a nod for the fourth year in a row in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama. Joanne Froggatt earned her third Supporting Actress nomination this year for playing long-suffering ladies maid, Anna Bates.
If we travel back in time a bit to the early 16th century, we find another PBS period drama offering, Wolf Hall, which has garnered some Emmy kudos. The series itself has been nominated in the aforementioned new Limited Series category. Mark Rylance has been nominated in the Outstanding Actor grouping for bringing major English Renaissance political player Thomas Cromwell to life. Likewise Damian Lewis, who played none other than Henry VIII himself, has been recognized as an Outstanding Supporting Actor nominee.
Men in tights and doublets, harpsicord and lute music in the background and manly sports like archery put us in no doubt we are in Tudor England and that Wolf Hall is yet another high quality British production.
And what could more representative of British nostalgia than a good old fashioned cozy mystery (even if the protagonist of the story is a Belgian detective)? Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain, Poirot’s Last Case has been nominated for Outstanding Television Movie, a first for the franchise, which has spanned thirteen seasons.
Brits Playing Characters That Live in a Fantasy World Which is Obviously Based a Great Deal on the UK. In 2015 this category is best represented by an HBO production with a conspicuously large number of British cast members. You may have heard of it, Game of Thrones? Sure there are dragons and White Walkers and a passionate race of people from a place called Dorne; however most of Westeros appears to be very much like our beloved old Blighty.
Thrones is in the running for Outstanding Drama and three of its English actresses are nominated - Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke both for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama and Dame Diana Rigg for Guest Actress in a Drama (although if you’re like me, you’d like to see a lot more of Lady Olenna Tyrell in King’s Landing.)
Brits Playing Americans. This is becoming a more and more common phenomenon - British actors being cast in American shows based on their acting talent and not their accent. This year the powers that be have recognized two Brits for their Outstanding Drama performances.
Alan Cumming has earned his second Supporting Actor nomination for playing plain-spoken political strategist Eli Gold in The Good Wife. I don’t watch this show, but I know Cumming has achieved a pretty impressive brogue-less accent over the years.
Nominated for his solo dramatic performance in the HBO movie Nightingale, David Oyelowo has been playing an American more often than an Englishman in recent years. (The Help, A Most Violent Year and Selma are just a few examples.) He’s stated his frustration with casting opportunities in the UK, so very soon no one may remember Oyelowo is a Brit at all.
The rest of the British nominees this year would fit into only very specific niche categories at the present time, but who can predict if those niches might grow at some point.
For example: Guys who Wrote The Office and Have Moved on to Individual Projects: Ricky Gervais for the Derek Special– Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie.
Stephen Merchant for Hello Ladies: The Movie – Outstanding TV Movie.
Brits Singing Sondheim. Not likely to catch on I realize, but any excuse for seeing Emma Thompson make an acceptance speech, right? Emma Thompson for Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: In Concert with the New York Philharmonic:
I suppose my point is that the quality reputation of British programs and actors has taken a strong foothold here in the States as well as other countries throughout the world. So if you’re in accord with me on these proposed changes, let me know. We could always start up on on-line petition. How about, “Pressure Emmy Voters to Create Categories that Showcase the Superiority of British Actors”? Well, maybe not that exactly, but you get the idea…