Paul Mescal attends the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards 2021 at Television Centre on June 06, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

Bafta TV awards 2021: why Paul Mescal’s Bafta win is such a big deal to so many

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Normal People star Paul Mescal has been named Best Leading Actor at the 2021 Baftas. And, yes, it means a lot.

In 2020, basically everyone fell in love with Paul Mescal following his gut-wrenching performance as Connell (oh he with the viral chain) in the BBC’s Normal People.

So, yeah, you better believe that everyone was excited when he was named Best Leading Actor at the 2021 Baftas.

“The #paulmescal love lives on a year later,” tweeted one viewer.

“Would just like to congratulate my hubby on his first Bafta,” added another.

Paul Mescal, winner of the Leading Actor award for "Normal People", poses in the Winners Room at the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards 2021 at Television Centre on June 6, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
Paul Mescal made sure to dedicate his award to his Normal People co-star, Daisy Edgar-Jones.

One more, when the camera cut to Mescal’s co-star, Daisy Edgar-Jones, reacting to him dedicating his award to her, gushed over their “pure” friendship.

And still one more said: “Well done, Paul! Thought the necklace might get a mention in that speech!”

However, there’s a far bigger reason why this win meant so much to so many – and, yes, it has everything to do with the show’s final three episodes, which were dedicated to Connell’s depression as he struggled to deal with the loss of a close friend to suicide

Steering clear of heavy-handed Hollywood mental health tropes, though, the show explores all the subtle ways in which depression can manifest itself. Connell became disengaged from the people around him, unable to even so much as make eye contact with his girlfriend Helen (Aoife Hinds) as she broke up with him, and began experiencing increasingly debilitating panic attacks.

Finally, we saw him break down in a therapy session, tearfully telling his counsellor: “I left Carricklea thinking I could have a different life. But I hate it here and I can never go back because those friendships are gone and Rob is gone and I can’t see him again.

“I can’t get that life back.”

You can watch the scene for yourself below:

So why was this such a big deal?

Well, because men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women in the UK. Because, in the Republic of Ireland, that number is even higher: men are four times more likely than women to take their own lives. 

Because suicide remains the single biggest killer of men aged under 45.

No wonder, then, that so many have praised Mescal’s portrayal of Connell’s breakthrough for hammering home the fact that it’s always, always, always OK to be honest about how you’re feeling (and accept help, when it’s offered).

“I’ve rewatched #PaulMescal’s therapy scene from #NormalPeople so many times,” tweeted one viewer of the awards show. 

“It’s the first time I’ve seen young men’s mental health struggles on screen in a totally realistic and honest way.”

Another noted: “Absolutely delighted for #PaulMescal. He so deserved to win that BAFTA. His portrayal of male depression in #NormalPeople was heart-wrenching. Well done that man”

And one more said: “Normal People broke me last year and I watched it in one sitting through tears. #PaulMescal seriously deserves this as his performance just brought me to my knees.”

Samaritans operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. For confidential support call the Samaritans in the UK on 08457 90 90 90 or visit a local Samaritans branch.

If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org.

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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