Speech of the Month, February 2024 - Samantha Morton

Samantha Morton delivers a moral message without being dull or preachy

Speech of the Month, February 2024 - Samantha Morton

Watching film awards is a love-hate activity for me. While I adore goggling at the gorgeous frocks and discovering who’s won what and debating whether it’s a just decision, I find the bits in between – yes, the speeches! – often unbearable. 

Hearing winners reel off a list of thank-yous - their agent, their director, their God, their mum etc - and then continue to blow smoke up the backsides of people you haven’t heard of with such fervour that you’d think they’d not only produced a film but found the cure to cancer and colic, is alienating and dull.

Yet, when winners go in the other direction and drop the thank-yous and decide to deliver a serious message, this can be even more irritating. Who wants a lecture on veganism, climate crisis or racism from a twinkly-eyed, well-paid performer who pretends to be other people for a living? 

But now and again, a winner delivers a speech that’s a must-listen. And that happened on 18 February when Samantha Morton addressed the Bafta audience after winning the Fellowship Award. If you haven’t seen it, then do take a look.

Here’s why it was heads and shoulders above the others:

Her message was borne from experience

Morton did include a few thank-yous, but she chose to go down the ‘deliver a serious message’ route. Her message being that representation in film matters. She then told a quick but moving story about seeing Kes as a child and how the depiction of a child in poverty, as she herself was, made her realise that people living lives like hers could inspire brilliant cinema.

Ultimately, her message was about the importance of diversity. Too many British films are about royalty or upper-middle class types. And while their underlying stories might be universal - love, treachery, jealousy, loss etc – the worlds in which they’re told are niche. But what if more worlds were represented…..

She flattered her audience

During her speech, Morton told the audience, “The stories we tell have the power to change lives. Film changed my life. It transformed me. And it led me here today.” In saying this, she’s letting her audience believe that, through making films, they are changing people’s lives for the better. They’re making a difference.

This is a clever move. Very few directors are making films for anyone other than themselves. But all of them will love to think that they’re at the head of some equality vanguard. If you can flatter your audience into believing it’s something it would like to be or knows it should be, then you’ll have more success if you need to persuade it to do something within those parameters.  

She kept it short

When speakers have serious messages that are drawn from experience, they can go on a bit. No, not the technical term. But an acceptance speech needs to come in around two minutes. So, given her topic, Morton did well to keep hers short. If it felt longer, that was because it was big on substance. 

When acceptance speeches go past the three-minute mark, viewers start thinking, ‘Get on with it.’ And the speaker appears far too self-indulgent. After delivering a 13-minute monologue after accepting the best actress prize for ‘A Star is Born’ at the National Board of Review gala, Lady Gaga won no more. Presumably voters didn’t want to give her the chance to bang on for so long again.  

She ended on a humourous note 

The danger of delivering a serious, personal message is that it can come across as worthy and didactic. And for whatever reason, that’s not cool in 2024. Award ceremonies are supposed to be glitzy and fun. So, in order to lift the mood, Morton chose to end with, “Don’t let the bastards get your down.” 

I can’t pretend that it was especially hilarious or original but the people in the room laughed and the tone shifted back to where we expect it to be, and that’s the key thing. 

This is something we all need to consider when giving a speech. How do we want the atmosphere in the room to feel once we’ve delivered our last line. 

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Five stars
“Emma's service completely exceeded my expectations. After sending her some of my best stories, she wove them into a tremendous speech that I could then play around with. Plus, she added some jokes and touches that I'd have never seen but which made the whole speech sparkle. She gave me great tips on how to deliver it too. So many people complimented me on it but actually they didn't need to, I knew I'd done a great job, and that's something I wasn't sure I'd manage at all before I met Emma. She's an absolute credit to her profession!”

Don C, Father of the Bride, Harrogate

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