"The Academy congratulates Anthony Hopkins and accepts the Oscar on his behalf, thank you."
Somehow, the most surprising moment of the 2021 Oscars ceremony also managed to be its most perfunctory: Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of an elderly dementia sufferer in The Father edged out the late Chadwick Boseman to take home the Best Actor gong. Except, of course, he didn't take it home – for Hopkins was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the reliably grumpy Joaquin Phoenix announced the win, mumbled something incoherent, and was off-stage almost before anyone had realised what had happened.
The sense of anticlimax was a strangely fitting ending to an evening more notable for its predictable wins and dull speeches (the closest we got to a joke was Daniel Kaluuya thanking his parents for having sex and conceiving him), than for anything approaching the kind of old-fashioned movie-theatre magic that MC Steven Soderbergh had promised.
The final slot of the night is usually reserved for Best Picture. But after a surprise order change gave Frances McDormand and Chloe Zhao their gong for Nomadland before the main acting awards, the stage seemed set for a moving final tribute to Boseman, whose extraordinary final performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom arrived on Netflix just three months after his death from colon cancer, at the age of 44.
Instead, the Academy followed in the Baftas' footsteps (as it did for most of the night's awards) and recognised the 83-year-old Welshman for his vulnerable and poignant portrait of a man all-too aware that his mental faculties are failing him in Florian Zeller's adaptation of his own play.
In some ways, it shouldn't have take us so completely by surprise – Hopkins is a safely respectable choice (he won in 1991 for playing Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs), the Academy loves to reward its old guard (at 83, he is the oldest Acting winner ever), and it is arguably the best performance of his career.
But the Oscars also followed the Baftas in another respect - Hopkins didn't show up to accept his award, even on Zoom. During the Baftas he was apparently painting in one room while his family celebrated his win in the room next door. So where was he for the Oscars? The short answer is: Wales. As eagle-eyed followers of Hopkins's enthusiastic social media activities will know, he left his home in Malibu, California, two weeks ago to return to his green and pleasant ancestral land. "Trees, brooks, and books... Back home in Wales," he announced gnomically to his 2.8 million Instagram followers two weeks ago, alongside a picture of himself gazing contentedly over picturesque ruins in St David's.
He then appears to have set off on a tour of South Wales (and why not?): three days ago on Twitter, beneath a collage of childhood photos captioned "You can take the boy out of Wales, but you cannot take Wales out of the boy" (in what, retrospectively, reads as knowing wink to his upcoming refusal to be taken out of Wales), a user thanked him for chatting to his brother-in-law "today in Caerleon", a small town outside Newport, "whilst you were waiting for your wife".
Yesterday, his absence from the Oscars was all but confirmed by a sunlit video of himself reciting Dylan Thomas' Do Not Go Gently Into That Goodnight beside his father Richard's grave (probably somewhere in Newport, where he died), proof that he was still very much not in Los Angeles. Even then, it was still conceivable that he would make it to the London spin-off show at the BFI. Right up until the moment Phoenix was left standing awkwardly in front of an enormous projection of Hopkins' Twitter photo, it seemed some optimistic producer was still hoping he'd show up.
So why didn't he? It's tempting to jump to irritation and condemn the Hollywood veteran for feeling that awards shows are beneath him. But let's not forget that this is a pandemic year and making it to LA to attend in person was neither easy nor necessarily the ethical choice.
Hopkins has been vaccinated but still, international travel from the UK for all but essential reasons is still nominally illegal. The alternative – collecting your award from the BFI with the rest of the Brit pack – necessitated braving the time difference, and travelling to London. The Best Actor award was handed out at 4.15am GMT; for an 83-year-old, that's a pretty tough order.
And he was by no means ungracious. In yet another Instagram video posted early this morning, standing with his back to a picturesque, sun-flooded Welsh landscape, he expressed shock at his win.
"Here I am in my homeland in Wales, and at 83 years of age I did not expect to get this award, I really didn't. I'm very grateful to the Academy and thank you, and I want to pay tribute to Chadwick Boseman, who was taken from us far too early. I feel very privileged and honoured. Thank you."
Many Oscar viewers seemed more amused than miffed at his decision not to show up. "I've had some time to think about this: Anthony Hopkins skipping the Oscars to get a good night's sleep in his bed is aspirational", tweeted The Ringer's Sean Fennessey. The 92nd Academy Awards ended with a damp squib – but at least Sir Anthony got his beauty sleep.