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‘I like telling difficult stories about contradictory, messy humans’: Meet 2023’s Bafta Breakthroughs

We’re not quite done with 2023 yet, but we’ve come far enough to know one thing: it has been another stellar year for British film and TV.

From Molly Manning Walker’s powerful holiday drama How to Have Sex, to the lovable London romcom Rye Lane, our screens have been bursting with new, exciting talent that makes us hungry for what’s to come in the entertainment world.

On Wednesday (29 November), this year’s Bafta Breakthrough cohort was revealed – a list of 42 creatives to watch who are working in film, television and games. Previous recipients include the likes of Florence Pugh, Letitia Wright, Tom Holland, Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor.

Some of the new names listed include Bella Ramsey, Vivian Oparah, Samantha Béart and director Georgia Oakley.

Over the next 12 months, these 42 talented creatives will be part of a unique network of stars on the rise. Being included as part of the Bafta Breakthrough scheme, supported by Netflix, includes one-to-one meetings and career guidance, full voting membership, and access to Bafta events and screenings, as well as networking events, both in the UK and internationally.

One of this year’s recipients includes the star of Section 28 drama Blue Jean, Rosy McEwen. After her performance as a closeted lesbian teacher in late 1980s Newcastle, the actor received widespread praise. Being a part of the 2023 cohort, she’s looking forward to using her connection to Bafta to help craft her career.

“It’s inspiring, because they ask, ‘What can I do for you?’” McEwen says. “They say they can set you up, arrange meetings, prep you in any kind of capacity you want, with anyone you want. It makes you ask yourself the question: how do I want to progress in my career?

Rosy McEwen (BAFTA/Vivek Vadoliya)
Rosy McEwen (BAFTA/Vivek Vadoliya)

“As an actor, there’s a narrative that you’re waiting for the phone to ring. For Bafta to ask me what I want, I take back the autonomy – it feels incredibly powerful.”

McEwen is joined by Charlotte Regan, the director of Scrapper, a Sundance-honoured film about a 12-year-old girl filling her council flat with magic and joy. When I ask about what being included in this crowd of rising stars means to her, Regan shares her excitement for what UK cinemas will see next.

“It feels like a pretty mad year for debuts in particular,” she explains. “It feels like we’re making first films that take more risks. Blue Jean was one of the first ones, then Rye Lane was incredible as well. My friend Molly’s film, How to Have Sex, was amazing. It feels like a pretty good time in cinema – we’re taking risks in films and we’re stepping outside of what people traditionally think of when it comes to British film.”

Charlotte Regan (BAFTA/Vivek Vadoliya)
Charlotte Regan (BAFTA/Vivek Vadoliya)

Another honouree whose work pushed the boundaries this year is Pete Jackson, the writer behind the drama Somewhere Boy, which centres around a boy whose father raises him completely indoors. Jackson won a Bafta for Emerging Talent in 2022, as well as scooping up a Drama Writer nomination.

“I like telling difficult stories about contradictory, messy humans,” he says over Zoom. “In an ever-polarised world, we’re conditioned to look at things in quite binary terms – right and wrong, good and evil. What interests me is the truth, the grey area – everyone is complex.”

Jackson started writing professionally in his forties after becoming sober, and credits his life experiences for adding to his creative talents. To other writers starting a little further down the road, Jackson sends the message: whenever you start is exactly the right time.

“Whatever sort of weird, difficult, long path you’ve taken to first pick up a pen and have a go is the right path,” he says. “It makes your voice unique and interesting; there’s nothing wrong with having lived a bit.”

Pete Jackson (BAFTA/Vivek Vadoliya)
Pete Jackson (BAFTA/Vivek Vadoliya)

Another new name on the Bafta Breakthrough scheme who is no stranger to taking home a statuette is Adjani Salmon, the creator and star of BBC Three satirical comedy Dreaming Whilst Black.

The show, which tracks the efforts of an aspiring filmmaker trying to get his first steps on the creative professional ladder, was released in full in July, but began as a web series in 2018. In 2021 came a TV series pilot, then the following year Salmon won the Bafta Craft Award for “emerging talent: fiction”, along with the full series backing of A24, the production company behind Euphoria, The Idol and Beef.

Despite already having recognition from the awards body, Salmon sees his inclusion on the Bafta Breakthrough list as an added way for him to get into the rooms where he can achieve even more.

”Winning a Bafta is amazing, because it’s recognition from your industry peers,” he says. “However, being on a Bafta Breakthrough scheme is almost the stamp saying, ‘We believe in you; we want to help you grow’ – which is equally great.”

Adjani Salmon (BAFTA/Vivek Vadoliya)
Adjani Salmon (BAFTA/Vivek Vadoliya)

“I hope this year can help build friendships,” Salmon continues. “I’m curious to meet more practitioners in the industry, like myself. And I’m curious to see who I can get meetings with, through Bafta. People whose work I look up to and respect: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Issa Rae, Donald Glover, Jesse Armstrong, Barry Jenkins. I want to be able to give them their flowers, and ask their advice, instead of Googling their careers and trying to decipher what they’ll tell me.”

The full list of UK Bafta Breakthrough honourees:

  • Bella Ramsey, performer – The Last of Us

  • Cash Carraway, creator/writer/exec producer – Rain Dogs

  • Charlotte Regan, writer/director – Scrapper

  • Cynthia De La Rosa, hair & makeup artist – Everyone Else Burns

  • Ella Glendining, director – Is There Anybody Out There?

  • Funmi Olutoye, lead producer – “Black History Makers” (Good Morning Britain)

  • Georgia Oakley, writer/director – Blue Jean

  • Holly Reddaway, voice and performance director – Baldur’s Gate 3

  • Joel Beardshaw, lead designer - Desta: The Memories Between

  • Kat Morgan, hair & makeup designer – Blue Jean

  • Kathryn Ferguson, writer/director – Nothing Compares

  • Kitt (Fiona) Byrne, 2D artist/game designer - Gibbon: Beyond the Trees

  • Michael Anderson, producer - Desta: The Memories Between

  • Pete Jackson, writer/creator – Somewhere Boy

  • Raine Allen-Miller, director – Rye Lane

  • Rosy McEwen, performer – Blue Jean

  • Samantha Béart, performer - The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow

  • Talisha ‘Tee Cee’ Johnson, writer/director/presenter – Too Autistic for Black

  • Vivian Oparah, performer – Rye Lane

The UK Bafta Breakthrough cohort (BAFTA/Vivek Vadoliya)
The UK Bafta Breakthrough cohort (BAFTA/Vivek Vadoliya)

The full list of US Bafta Breakthrough honourees:

  • Amanda Kim, documentary director – Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV

  • Aminah Nieves, performer – 1923

  • Apoorva Charan, producer – Joyland

  • Cheyenne Pualani Morrin, senior games writer – Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

  • Edward Buckles Jr. documentary director – Katrina Babies

  • Gary Gunn, composer – A Thousand and One

  • Jingyi Shao, writer & director – Chang Can Dunk

  • Maria Altamirano, producer – All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt

  • Santiago Gonzalez, cinematographer – Shortcomings

  • Shelly Yo, writer & director – Smoking Tigers

  • Sing J Lee, writer & director – The Accidental Getaway Driver

  • Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, writer & director – Mutt

The US Bafta Breakthrough cohort: Cheyenne Morrin, Edward Buckles Jr., Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, Maria Altamirano, Santiago Gonzalez, Aminah Nieves, Gary Gunn, Jingyi Shao and Apoorva Charan (Getty Images for BAFTA)
The US Bafta Breakthrough cohort: Cheyenne Morrin, Edward Buckles Jr., Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, Maria Altamirano, Santiago Gonzalez, Aminah Nieves, Gary Gunn, Jingyi Shao and Apoorva Charan (Getty Images for BAFTA)

The full list of India Bafta Breakthrough honourees are:

  • Abhay Koranne, writer – Rocket Boys

  • Abhinav Tyagi, editor – An Insignificant Man

  • Don Chacko Palathara, director/writer – Joyful Mystery

  • Kislay, director – Soni

  • Lipika Singh Darai, director/writer – Some Stories Around Witches

  • Miriam Chandy Menacherry, producer – From the Shadows and The Leopard’s Tribe

  • Pooja Rajkumar Rathod, cinematographer – Secrets of the Elephants

  • Sanal George, sound editor/mixer/designer – Gangubai Kathiawadi

  • Satya Rai Nagpaul, cinematographer – Ghoomketu

  • Shardul Bhardwaj, performer – Eeb Allay Ooo

The India Bafta Breakthrough cohort: Shardul Bhardwaj, Lipika Singh Darai, Kislay, Sanal George, Satya Rai Nagpaul, Miriam Chandy Menacherry, Abhay Koranne and Abhinav Tyagi (BAFTA/Vikas Gotra)
The India Bafta Breakthrough cohort: Shardul Bhardwaj, Lipika Singh Darai, Kislay, Sanal George, Satya Rai Nagpaul, Miriam Chandy Menacherry, Abhay Koranne and Abhinav Tyagi (BAFTA/Vikas Gotra)