A movie star, a zombie and two serial killers walk into an awards ceremony, and … we'll have to wait until Sunday night to find out the punchline. This year's nominees are Dominic West for Burton and Taylor (BBC4); Luke Newberry for In the Flesh (BBC3); Sean Harris for Southcliffe (Channel 4); and Jamie Dornan for The Fall (BBC2).
It's good to see relative newcomer Luke Newberry getting a nod for a genre drama among such a strong field. In the Flesh was a solid series, that did a good job of putting a fresh, British take on both the awkwardness of teen life and zombie horror; that said, he's surely the outside bet this year – historically, this award rarely even nominates performances from dramas that stray from realist parameters so it's hard to imagine a story about people living with Partially Deceased Syndrome winning.
What Bafta does seem to like is a real-life biopic, which could play in West's favour. It's not difficult to imagine his performance as Richard Burton sitting alongside past winners such as Jim Broadbent's Lord Longford in Longford, Albert Finney's Winston Churchill in The Gathering Storm, Daniel Rigby as Eric Morecambe in Eric and Ernie – even last year's winner Ben Whishaw as Richard II in The Hollow Crown.
Could West's win for Appropriate Adult two years ago work against him? Michael Gambon was the last repeat winner in this category, with his 2001-3 hattrick for Wives and Daughters, Longitude and Perfect Strangers following his 1987 award for The Singing Detective. There were some misgivings about his performance from more dedicated Richard Burton fans, but as a single drama in its own right, Burton and Taylor made for an enjoyable one-off, with West and Helena Bonham Carter a sparky double act. West was warm, gregarious and exasperated as Burton, playing him as a man who loved someone he knew he couldn't possibly live with. As a side note, Burton and Taylor is the last of BBC4's generally great slate of dramas. It would be satisfying to see the department go out on a high with a win here.
The remaining two candidates come firmly from the "gritty Bafta" school of British drama. Less whodunnit, more he-dunnit, The Fall opened up the dark, unpleasant interior of a serial killer's mind with a forensic determination. Jamie Dornan played creepy killer Paul Spector as a predator with a thinly-learnt set of social skills; his moments as a family man as tense as the attacks. For me, Southcliffe's Sean Harris just edges the competition. His performance as Stephen Morton, an ex-squaddie whose killing spree underpins the drama was a brooding mix of silence, violence and tenderness; a broken Action Man whose presence was felt in every scene – even though he was barely in the last two episodes. A real case of less is more.
Who's missing from the nominations? David Tennant in Broadchurch (ITV1) is probably the most obvious omission (perhaps edged out by Olivia Colman's performance when Bafta's voters looked back?). I also enjoyed Stephane Dillane's blend of gruff humour, police nous and his cagy partnership with Clemence Posey in The Tunnel (Sky1), while Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders (BBC1) is a starry absentee, and it's a shame Matt Smith didn't get another nod for his final adventures as Doctor Who (BBC1). It's not always easy to pull off the quieter moments that gave his run some real depth in a big, broad Saturday night sci-fi show.
Rory Kinnear for Southcliffe (Channel 4) is the standout in this category – a big meaty role that could easily have been considered for the lead actor in terms of screen time. David Bradley is on something of a roll at the moment – witty as the first Doctor Who William Hartnell in An Adventure In Space and Time, a bloody player as Walder Frey in Game of Thrones, and a convincing suspect as the persecuted newsagent in the Broadchurch, which is the role he is nominated for. Also on this list is fellow Game Of Thrones member Jerome Flynn, who was entertaining in Ripper Street (BBC1), and Nico Mirallegro for The Village (BBC1).
There are some glaring absentees in this category. Peter Mullan's bullying patriarch in Top of the Lake (BBC2) would get my vote; and it's baffling that the excellent Utopia (Channel 4) hasn't been nominated in any category – I'd have expected Adeel Akhtar's Wilson Wilson, Neil Maskell's Arby or Paul Higgin's civil servant Dugdale to be here.
Narrowing the field to just two shows does make this year's male comedy selection feel a bit underpowered; last year we had Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge: Welcome to the Places of My Life beating Hugh Bonneville in Twenty Twelve, Peter Capaldi in The Thick of It and Greg Davies in Cuckoo. The IT Crowd's Chris O'Dowd and Richard Ayoade are up against The Wrong Man's action comedy team of Mathew Baynton and James Corden – a pair of evenly matched double acts. For sheer comic timing, Richard Ayoade edges the others out for me – his deadpan Moss is such a joy to watch, although as the eligible episode was a one-off finale it doesn't feel like The IT Crowd was necessarily the defining comedy of 2013 – more like a farewell lap of honour; Mathew Baynton would be the candidate for the Corden-allergic punter.
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