Ken Loach's Ae Fond Kiss
Edinburgh - British Cinema on Show

It's nearly a quarter of a century since Colin Welland informed the Academy Award audience that "the British are coming". Admittedly, the interim has seen UK cinema have one of its better periods, with the likes of FilmFour and BBC Films backing theatrical releases, Working Title sponsoring a series of crowdpleasing comedies and the BritCrime bubble spawning dozens of mockney imitations before it finally burst.

Yet, despite the infusion of Lottery money, the British film industry once again finds itself in the doldrums. Heritage pictures like Chariots of Fire - that were once our only source of surefire global hits - have so gone out of fashion that Richard Eyre's Stage Beauty is the only period contender at the 58th Edinburgh International Film Festival.

The social realists are here in force, however, with a tribute to Lindsay Anderson reinforcing the links between British drama and the documentary movement that has informed our indigenous cinematic style since the 1930s. But there are those who feel it is time for UK film to move on from the caricatures and clichés of the 'grim oop north' school and find a new way to explore the social and political issues affecting everyday life.

Ken Loach has been this country's most agenda-driven director for many years. But his commitment to a cause has only occasionally clouded his artistic judgement and he proves again how to temper polemic with wry humanism in Ae Fond Kiss (pictured) - the story of a star-crossed Muslim-Catholic romance - whose lightness of touch stands in stark contrast to Kenny Glenaan's Yasmin. Scripted by Simon Beaufoy (of Full Monty fame), this is an earnest but naive insight into the experience of British Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. Antonia Bird is equally culpable of blurring the issues for dramatic convenience in The Hamburg Cell, which strives to remain so scrupulously neutral that it singularly fails to get inside the minds of the Al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the attacks on Washington and New York.

the PurifiersThis tendency towards soapbox realism has undoubtedly alienated mainstream audiences. Yet attempts to court the multiplex crowd by mimicking blockbuster formulae have invariably failed even more spectacularly. Seeking to buck the trend, Richard Jobson attempts to relocate the martial arts movie to a futuristic Glasgow in The Purifiers (starring Dominic Monaghan, pictured right), and he succeeds in staging some stylish slo-mo fight sequences, whose unlikely settings give them an offbeat charm. But the dialogue is too often as pretentious as the performances are rigid.

Shane Meadows settles for ponderous naturalism from his largely inexperienced cast in Dead Man's Shoes, which transfers the revenge Western to a Nottingham housing estate. However, Paddy Considine excels as the ruthless squaddie gunning for the petty crooks responsible for tormenting his slow-witted brother. Considine also shows well in Pawel Pawlikowski's My Summer Of Love, which explores such contentious issues as class and religion without allowing them to stifle the touching liaison between teenagers Nathalie Press and Emily Blunt.

More conventional, but still engaging are Irish director Damien O'Donnell's Inside I'm Dancing, and Shona Auerbach's Dear Frankie, which couch their mild social concerns in an unashamedly feel-good way. Blinded, Jodhi MayHowever, the mood darkens considerably for C.S. Leigh's Process - a virtually silent study in 29 takes of an actress's professional and personal meltdown - and Eleanor Yule's rural love triangle, Blinded, in which farmer Peter Mullan takes badly to Danish labourer Anders W. Berthelsen's burgeoning friendship with his wife, Jodhi May (pictured right). Yule's direction relies heavily on the realist template, but Brad Anderson and and Marc Evans allow their imagination a freer rein in The Machinist and Trauma, each of which breathes new life into another British genre that is long overdue a sustained revival - horror. Finally, you might like to check out the films produced via Channel Four's digital animation scheme, Mesh. Sally Ann Arthur's sly satire on consumerism and marriage, Perfect, and Mari Umemura's Olympic antidote, Limb-O-Xtreme, are the pick of the crop.

The Edinburgh Film Festival runs from 18th-29th August

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