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Made In Britain?

Friday 31 January 2014, 16:45

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

The British film industry is flourishing but home-grown films often fail at the box office. What exactly makes a movie British these days?

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    Comment number 5.

    What is a British film?

    An interesting question. It can’t just be about the funding. Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem was funded by an Italian pasta company and has an international cast, yet I’d claim him as a distinctive British director.

    In terms of funding we still have C4, BBC Films, Working Title, Aardman Animations, Archer Street Films, Big Talk Productions, Hammer etc., even if they look to co-productions so as to spread risk and help distribution.

    Does Eon (James Bond) count as British?

    Many British directors have found success in Hollywood, with Hollywood funding or elsewhere abroad, but there’s little to show any sense of a distinctive ‘British style’ of directing. Yet some directors: Danny Boyle, Paul Greengrass, Ridley Scott I do think of as being British.
    Others, say Tony Scott, I just don’t see in the same light; consumed by the studio machines.

    The Raid & Raid 2 is set in Indonesia with Indonesian cast – directed by Welsh director Gareth Evans.

    Crowd funding will only confuse matters more.

    Setting & source material possibly? Bridget Jones, Four Funerals, Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes (with American Robert Downey Jr) all originated from British writers (and with British actors) and have a British setting, yet Hollywood funding no doubt.

    British actors? Brit’s turn up in many films, Hollywood loves Brits with stage presence and good diction. Woody Allen uses many Brit’s in his casts, but is a Woody Allen film British, American or just a Woody Allen one?

    Subject matter. A Field In England, Four Lions, Kes, Kidulthood, Train Spotting and quite a few other films – even straight to DVD fodder such as Football Factory and Essex Boys – have to be considered distinctively British, regardless of where the funding comes from.

    One thing I think we can take pride in is that for a small country we still punch above our weight in terms of quality of acting, production, technical, costume, set design, orchestras and – against all odds I’ll agree – still produce a substantial number of directors (as well as actors, cinematographers etc.) that gain international recognition.

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    Comment number 6.

    #5 You write a lot of sense. I take pride in the fact that many people in the UK industry are still plugging away trying to create quality work because they love film. I do see some patterns emerging though. I think the likes of Ken Russell were auteurs railing against the system. As #5 mentioned many directors work in a global system look at Duncan Jonas et al of the new generation getting their breaks abroad and this is being replicated most notably in the acting profession. Look how many UK actors work on US TV or movies.

    I also think 40 + years ago the UK industry was incredibly diverse. Think The Carry On franchise, The Dr Franchise, Kitchen Sink dramas, Ealing Comedies, the Swinging 60's scene Hammer studies and many others.

    We have an industry just not one that feels ours any more. People who want to tell tales in a different voice cannot get heard.

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    Comment number 7.

    “I am slightly surprised that the Ealing Comedies and the Hammer House films weren't mentioned.”

    In the past – which you and I still remember – things were different.
    Cinema wasn’t so globalised, so British producers were mainly concerned with pleasing home audiences. Films could make their costs back in their home country. Prior to the 1960s there was no mass TV (for younger readers, the Internet didn’t become widely popular until the late 1990s) so cinema (and variety theatre) going really were true mass entertainment activities.
    Films, their studios and stars (Gracie Fields, George Formby, Laughton in The Private Life of Henry VIII etc.) aimed to appeal to their home audiences and could make a good profit.

    Hollywood and US TV became supreme in the 1950s/60s. They could just deliver a much more glamorous view of life, bigger spectacle – or greater shocks in the case of horror - and that meant the gradual death of British production houses (Ealing, Gainsborough, Hammer, Amicus included.) as films appealed to a more international audiences. Cinema certainly became more US centric.

    It wasn’t all bad. There was a time when watching a foreign film was considered so unusual you were considered weird, at best 'intellectual'; at worst akin to a pervert watching European sex movies: The tabloids made no distinction between Pasolini, Fasbinder, Goddard etc that featured mild nudity and Swedish porn.
    As Ingmar Bergman was Swedish and his uncompromising films deal with death, sex & violence some tabloids lumped him in with 'Swedish filth'. Nowadays you'd wonder what the fuss was about? His films are now regarded as classics, though many today refuse to watch them as they're in B/W!

    One thing Spaghetti Westerns in the 60's (and in the 70’s - Kung Fu movies) did was make watching foreign (even if badly dubbed) films mainstream.

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    Comment number 8.

    “People who want to tell tales in a different voice cannot get heard.” #6

    Be determined. There are now so many ways to capture video, on phones, cameras etc. It’s quite cheap. Many people shoot short films/docs and put them on YouTube (Even stop motion animations that take years to produce).

    See it as your introductory movies. Have a passion.

    I recently read an interview with photographer Don Mclean (famed for his 60’s Vietnam war photos) and his advice for young photographers wasn’t to go war zones (now already well covered, not least because of social media) but to photo the changes, social/political challenges of what’s happening around you. (We live in fast changing times.)

    Stop thinking about how many might see it.
    You want to make something - it’s important to you, so go do it. If it’s good it’ll find an audience afterwards.

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    Comment number 9.

    As you are probably aware, Ken's mum was probably referring derogatorially to the "quota-quickies" the low budget films churned out to satisfy the protectionist Cinematograph Films Act of 1927 which meant theatres had to show a quota of these films. Many of these were substandard and poor, but guaranteed distribution. However, this period also was a training ground for the likes of Michael Powell, Ronald Neame and David Lean.

    Perhaps we need a modern version of this to properly encourage and subsidize UK film production on "British" subjects. Oh, wait, that was the UK Film Council which was abolished by the present government in 2011. Crumbs!


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