Emma Cowing: Acceptance speeches are a crying shame

SOMEWHERE in a dark Parisian graveyard, the remains of Victor Hugo are gently spinning.

On Sunday night, actress Anne Hathaway took to the stage in London to accept her Bafta for best supporting actress in Les Miserables. Clutching on to the engraved mask for dear life, she panted and whispered her way through a litany of thank yous longer than Pericles’ Funeral Oration, finally wrapping things up with a perky: “My very special thanks are reserved for Victor Hugo, without whom none of us would be here. Thank you so much honey, I love you.”

Wait. Did Anne Hathaway really call Victor Hugo “honey”? Because Hugo, writer, poet, social injustice campaigner and freethinker, doesn’t really seem like the kind of guy you should be calling “honey”. Either way (and there is a school of thought on Twitter, that bellwether of public opinion on such matters, that she was actually referring to her new husband, Adam Shulman), it was one of those speeches that ticked every box in the yet-to-be-written-but-in-dire-need-of-being-penned book entitled “How Not To Give An Awards Ceremony Acceptance Speech”.

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There was the hand flapping, the quivering voice, the overwrought emotion, the bad joke (“I’m so relieved I’m coming down with laryngitis because the location, the giddiness, this could be a recipe for disaster. I might sing,” she informed the audience, to a few polite coughs) and the sense that she was only just holding it together and not bursting into tears. In fact, so strong was the sense that she was only just holding it together and not bursting into tears that one could only come to the conclusion that she was, in fact, acting her backside off.

And so, before she even picks up the Oscar she is widely expected to be awarded later this month, Hathaway has joined the pantheon of actresses guilty of some of the worst acceptance speeches ever made, up there with weepy Gwyneth Paltrow thanking her grandfather, a crying Kate Winslet urging herself to “gather” and Halle Berry who, for reasons best known to herself, chose, through the tears, to thank her lawyers when she won an Oscar.

The thing about this list is that it is full of women. This is because men don’t do this. The breathy, teary, “oh-my-God-you-can’t-possibly-mean-me” thing. Not that men do breathy, teary stuff often anyway, but when it comes to accepting awards, men wouldn’t dream of acting like they didn’t really deserve to win.

Take Jim Rash for example, the screenwriter of The Descendants who won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay at last year’s Oscars and used his moment in the spotlight in front of a sixth of the world’s population to poke a little gentle fun at Angelina Jolie by replicating her bizarre split length dress stance from earlier on in the show. I liked this, not particularly because it poked fun at Jolie (although you would have needed a heart of stone not to raise a titter), but because it reeked of entitlement, acceptance and frivolity – all the things someone accepting an award should eminate. “Of course I’ve won an award, I’m good at what I do,” he seemed to be saying. “But I’m not so enthralled by it that I’m not going to use this opportunity to make you all laugh.”

What irks me is that Hathaway’s over-rehearsed, wobbly little waffle was probably what she thought she needed to do. It’s what she probably practised in front of the hotel mirror before she was shoe-horned into her demure Burberry gown, and what her publicist probably advised her to do in order to portray the right balance between sweet and humble.

Instead of marching on stage, grabbing that award off George Clooney like she deserved it and addressing the audience by saying “yeah, cheers, nice one”, she had to give off the impression that she was unworthy of such greatness. It was a little bit depressing.

The Hollywood awards season is a funny time, particularly now, when the world is in the grip of a gloomy recession and money is tight. A room full of very rich people in expensive outfits congratulating themselves for having said a few words on screen seems even more ostentatious, outrageous and irrelevant than ever before.

It should then, behove those partaking in it to treat it with all the importance it deserves. Say thank you, smile, and get the hell off the stage, honey.