Can anything derail The King’s Speech?

On Baftas weekend, a look at this year’s blockbuster British film.

Last year's Baftas set the tone for the awards season, with five winners of top-tier awards – The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow, Christoph Waltz, Mo'Nique and Up – going on to glory at the Oscars.

This year, of course, the chatter is all about The King's Speech, which has 14 nominations. But, as the Independent's behind-the-scenes guide to the awards notes, it could suffer from having its votes split betwen the Best Film and Outstanding British Film awards.

The Independent article also offers an interesting analysis of why so few films get all the attention. (This year, it's The King's Speech, Black Swan, True Grit and The Social Network.) Although 207 films were entered in the various categories for the Baftas, the average number seen by the academy's 13,000 voters was 37. Understandably, most people don't have time to watch 400-plus hours of movies in the run-up to the awards, and so the films with the biggest marketing budgets and a critical head of steam benefit from their high visibility.

This year, that means that the top gongs at the Golden Globes were split between The King's Speech and The Social Network; the latter did better at the London Critics' Choice awards, beating the British film four to one. The Screen Actors Guild, meanwhile, gave Colin Firth and his film an award each, with Natalie Portman taking Best Actress and The Fighter the other two movie awards.

The other obvious trend during awards season is the bias against "commercial" films. As the Telegraph notes here, the Harry Potter franchise has had 23 Bafta nominations over the years but only one win (for production design). Similarly, last year's Oscar votes went to the determinedly small-scale Hurt Locker, rather than Avatar. (Say what you like about the blue aliens and the plot that was oddly reminiscent of Pocahontas, but James Cameron did invent a whole new type of film-making . . . )

Not that the Baftas are averse to films that happen to rake in the cash. The King's Speech is about to pass $200m worldwide at the box office, from a reported budget of £15m. (By comparison, The Social Network, with the advantages of a well-known writer and director and a subject that everyone has an opinion on, has taken $220m.)

The Guardian's Andrew Pulver and Xan Brooks report that the success of The King's Speech gives hope to the "lost middle" of the world film industry – movies that are neither giant money-hoovers nor tiny indie flicks. If so, a Bafta triumph would be a huge boost for a sector shaken by the scrapping of the UK Film Council.

The full list of Bafta nominees is here.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war