If there's one up and coming British actor worth keeping an eye on, it's Jack O'Connell. From relatively humble beginnings in E4 teen series Skins (in which he played the party-loving Cook), Jack has subsequently made a name for himself as the go-to guy for gritty Brit hits.
Don't believe the hype? Then consider his two wildly contrasting – and equally brilliant – performances in this year's homegrown success stories Starred Up and '71 (the latter currently on release in Cineworld). Both performances deserve serious consideration from the BAFTA jury.
In the former, Jack plays youth offender Eric, a young guy who has experienced a violent upbringing. Eric has been 'starred up' – i.e. bumped up to the level of adult prison before he's age appropriate – and this brings him into conflict with his lifer father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn).
Under the direction of David MacKenzie, the actor gives a powerfully visceral performance as a teenager consumed by his violent impulses, but who is to a large extent somewhat naive and vulnerable. O'Connell's ability to convey both rage and pity is seriously impressive – and the role makes for an interesting contrast with this month's release, '71.
Whereas in Starred Up, the actor embodied something of a caged animal, in '71 he plays a young soldier simply trying to survive on the chaotic streets of 1970s Belfast. O'Connell plays a soldier who becomes separated from his unit, and he manages to hold the screen with barely any dialogue whatsoever – an achievement that shouldn't be underestimated since pundits are often too keen to lavish praise on actors who can talk us into submission.
Instead, O'Connell brilliantly conveys the physical and psychological pain of his character Gary almost entirely through physical mannerisms, whether it's staggering away from a horrifying pub explosion, ears ringing, or beckoning a young kid to stay quiet as he hides from an assailant behind a door.
Both performances demonstrate the actor's striking versatility – he can command the attention both overtly and covertly. And given that both of these British films have achieved unanimous acclaim (Starred Up has 99% on Rotten Tomatoes; '71 has 97%) it should hopefully fuel O'Connell's chances at next year's BAFTAs.
And with his buzzed-about role in Angelina Jolie's World War II drama Unbroken, based on the life of Olympic athlete-turned-prisoner-of-war Louis Zamperini, is an Oscar in the offing too? We'll have to wait and see.