The 8 Biggest British and Irish Film and TV Breakouts of 2022
The Oscars broke with tradition in 2022 by being somewhat light in winners from across the Atlantic, but normality looks likely to resume in 2023 — largely thanks to Martin McDonagh’s beloved Irish tragicomedy The Banshees of Inisherin. There are also a few other major U.K. heavyweights in the running, with Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins lurking further down pollsters’ lists.
But any notion that British and Irish success rests on such established names is easily quashed thanks to the rising talent that has emerged on the big and small screen over the last 12 months. From phenomenal directorial debuts — including one that has a good chance of making the Academy Awards — to several stand-out onscreen performances to one of the world’s biggest pop stars finally getting to fully test his acting skills, there are a number of fast-rising names whose work in 2022 will likely be remembered as their film or TV breakthrough.
The Hollywood Reporter has hand-picked a small selection of these talents, including Banshees‘ scene-stealing donkey, because any list from this year without her is incomplete.
Charlotte Wells, Writer/Director (Aftersun)
It’s been some time since the industry has seen a first-time filmmaker make a major splash like Scottish director Wells for Aftersun. Starring Paul Mescal (in a role that further underlines his status as one of the most exciting indie actors around) and newcomer Frankie Corio (another incredible debut), the drama — a hazy reflection on a young girl’s summer holiday in the ’90s with her loving but troubled father completely flew under the radar until it was selected for Cannes’ Critics’ Week sidebar. The south of France would provide the ignition for the film, and it was there where — amid a growing tsunami of acclaim — it was picked up by A24 and Mubi (and landed Wells the Critics’ Week jury prize). More festivals and honors would follow, with Aftersun now staking a claim as an awards season dark horse, garnering a Gotham gong (for breakthrough director) and absolutely storming the British Independent Film Awards (seven wins, including best film and best director from 16 nominations). It was also picked by Barack Obama as one of his films of the year.
Colm Bairéad, Writer/Director (The Quiet Girl)
While The Quiet Girl wasn’t one of the noisiest (sorry) premieres at the Berlinale in February, the momentum it has gathered since has been extraordinary. Colm Bairéad’s directorial debut – about a withdrawn young girl sent to live on a farm with foster parents one summer — proceeded to smash box office records in Ireland for an Irish-language feature, but not before it had dominated the local IFTA awards, beating Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast to best film and best director. Backed by growing critical acclaim and ongoing success at festivals around the world, the film now has one leg in the Oscars race, recently making the best international feature shortlist (the first time for an Irish language film) and putting Bairéad in with a chance of joining a small number of first time filmmakers to land an Academy Award.
Daryl McCormack, Actor (Bad Sisters, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande)
In the space of a year, this Irish actor has been seen in plum roles alongside queens of both big and small screen. Searchlight’s Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, which was hugely well received following bows in Sundance and Berlin, saw McCormack play a young sex worker who introduces Emma Thompson’s insecure and sheltered widow to the pleasures of the bedroom (the two received a British Independent Film Awards nomination). Meanwhile, in Sharon Horgan’s Bad Sisters for Apple TV+, his chaotic relationship with Eve Hewson’s character, not to mention his brother (played by Brian Gleeson) was arguably the best thing about the acclaimed show. Upcoming projects include the feature The Tutor, in which he’s set to star alongside both Richard E. Grant and Julie Delpy.
Frances O’Connor, Writer/Director (Emily)
Already a star of film and TV for many years thanks to roles in Mansfield Park, Bedazzled, A.I. Artificial Intelligence and The Missing, 2022 saw the British-born Australian make a hugely well-received leap behind the camera. Marking her writing and directing debut, Emily — starring Emma Mackey in a largly fictionalized retelling of the life of famed Wuthering Heights author Emily Bronte — bowed in Toronto to solid reviews, with critics praising O’Connor’s imaginative, sensuous script and luscious filmmaking in the hills of Yorkshire. Emily later amassed four nominations at the British Independent Film Awards, while Bleeker Street is set to release the film in the U.S. in 2023.
Harry Styles, Actor (Don’t Worry Darling, My Policeman)
Yes, we know he was in Dunkirk! But did you count his actual lines? For all Christopher Nolan’s cinematic intros, 2022 saw Hollywood finally give one of the biggest pop stars on the planet something meatier to chew on thanks to two major film roles — Olivia Wilde’s dark psychological thriller Don’t Worry Darling and Michael Grandage’s LGBT period drama My Policeman, and, with them, glitzy premieres in Venice and Toronto (accompanied by red carpet chaos as thousands of fans descended to pay their respects to their idol). Whether Styles — who somehow managed to keep his own accent in both features — returns for more movie action remains to be seen. The noise around Don’t Worry Darling, which saw him engulfed in rumors linked to then-girlfriend Wilde and become the subject of various memes (Spitgate! Chris Pine Astral Plaining!) may well have put him off.
Kit Connor and Joe Locke, Actors (Heartstopper)
Netflix’s adaptation of Alice Oseman’s beloved graphic novel — an uplifting story of a gay schoolboy who falls in love with a classmate — saw its two teenage leads propelled into the limelight. Connor, who had already enjoyed roles in War & Peace and Rocketman playing a young Elton John, was soon signed by WMA, landed a role in the adaptation of NYT bestseller A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow and recently won outstanding lead performance in the inaugural Children’s and Family Emmy Awards. Meanwhile, Locke, for whom Heartstopper served as his first screen performance, was snapped up by CAA and was recently cast in Disney+’s WandaVision spin-off, Agatha: Coven of Chaos.
The first season of Bridgerton may have already crowned a big-screen prince in Regé-Jean Page, but season two appears to have heralded the arrival of a princess. Simone Ashley was already notable in the ensemble of Netflix’s Sex Education, but it was the streamer’s steamy regency-era romance that truly saw her star soar as incoming leading lady Kate. Ashley, who unlike Jean-Page will reprise her role for season 3, also has an undisclosed role in Disney’s live-action The Little Mermaid coming up, while she appears to be social media’s first choice to play the lead in Gurinder Chadha’s recently announced Disney musical about an actual real-life Indian princess.
While both these Brits were known before (James for roles in the Divergent series) and Sharpe most recently for his directing (including HBO’s Landscapers), it was the second serving of HBO’s The White Lotus that saw them turn (a lot of) heads. Playing wealthy spouses in an awkward and sexually-charged holidaymaking quartet, their antics — and whether or not Sharpe’s quietly simmering Ethan would finally erupt — kept fans guessing right up until the finale.
Jenny the Donkey, Actor (The Banshees of Inisherin)
It’s not easy to steal almost every scene from under the noses of Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Kerry Condon, especially when you’ve got zero acting experience and are barely 3-foot tall. But that’s exactly what Jenny the miniature donkey achieved in The Banshees of Inisherin, Martin McDonagh’s beautifully sad Irish black comedy. Expect shoutouts galore should Banshees awards season momentum gather pace, especially from Jenny’s onscreen BFF Farrell. Sadly, casting directors looking to take advantage of the four-legged breakout’s growing fanbase may be disappointed to hear that McDonagh has scuppered their plans, having paid for Jenny to take early retirement.