SMALL AXE, the Steve McQueen drama series beloved by critics but overlooked by audiences, has scored a record number of Bafta TV nominations.
The anthology of five films chronicled the black British experience from the 1970s onwards.
In its Sunday night slot on BBC One, it drew modest ratings of just over one million viewers per episode.
But Bafta voters garlanded it with 15 nominations, including best writer, best mini-series, leading actress for Letitia Wright and leading actor for both John Boyega and Shaun Parkes.
The two actors appeared in separate films, playing real-life figures: Boyega as Leroy Logan, founding member and former chair of the Black Police Association, and Parkes as Frank Crichlow, a Notting Hill restaurant owner whose intimidation by police sparked a riot and the ensuing Mangrove Nine court case.
Small Axe is up against a BBC ratings hit, Normal People, which became the most popular series of last year on iPlayer. The category also features Michaela Coel’s acclaimed I May Destroy You and Channel 4’s drama about a porn star, Adult Material.
The drama category includes Netflix’s The Crown, which picked up 10 nominations in total, alongside three Sky Atlantic series: Gangs of London, I Hate Suzie and Save Me Too.
Ratings winners that missed out on a nomination included Channel 5’s All Creatures Great and Small, plus the ITV crime dramas White House Farm and Des. Netflix’s Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit were also omitted.
Quiz, which dramatised the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? cheating scandal and was one of last year’s most-watched dramas, scored only one nomination, for Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant.
Bafta has overhauled its procedures after several years of being criticised for a lack of diversity. After last year’s film awards, Bafta’s president, the Duke of Cambridge, said it “simply cannot be right in this day and age” to have all-white shortlists.
This year’s television shortlist is diverse but Hannah Wyatt, chair of Bafta’s television committee, said that was not a deliberate move by voters.
“The fantastic shortlist is a reflection of the range that was laid before us,” she said. “That range is demonstrated by the fact there are 92 different programmes on the list, an increase from 84 last year.”
The Crown has 10 nominations including leading actor for Josh O’Connor as the Prince of Wales, supporting actress for Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret and supporting actor for Tobias Menzies as the Duke of Edinburgh. But there was no recognition either for Emma Corrin as Diana, Princess of Wales or Gillian Anderson as Baroness Thatcher.
Parkes, Boyega and O’Connor are joined in the leading actor category by Paapa Essiedu for I May Destroy You, Paul Mescal for Normal People and Waleed Zuaiter for Baghdad Central.
The leading actress category features Billie Piper for I Hate Suzie, Daisy Edgar-Jones for Normal People, Hayley Squires for Adult Material, Jodie Comer for Killing Eve, Michael Coel for I May Destroy You and Letitia Wright for Small Axe.
The Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards ceremony will take place on June 6, and will be televised on BBC One.
While the Brit Awards are taking place next month with an audience of 4,000 people, as part of a Government experiment in reinstating major events, the Baftas will take place in a studio containing only a handful of people.
The best female performance in a comedy category includes, for the first time, a performer who identifies as non-binary.
Mae Martin was nominated for her starring role in Channel 4’s Feel Good, a semi-autobiographical show about a stand-up comedian who forms a relationship with a previously heterosexual woman.
Martin, who uses they/them and she/her pronouns, tweeted her thanks to Bafta for the nomination but added: “PS gender’s a construct.”