Wednesday, October 19, 2011

More Thoughts on British Cinema

Prompted by this article on British film in The Guardian, which asserts that its 'Golden Age' is now.

What is a British film?

Is a British film one with a British theme, setting or subject matter? Is a British film one that is made by a largely British cast and crew? (In which case something like Alien would qualify). Is a British film one that passes the UK Film Council's Cultural Test, thereby qualifying it for tax rebates? Or is a British film something more nebulous, a feeling or an aesthetic more than a category? Maybe none of the above.

As for the British film industry, and its supposed renaissance, that is something else entirely. British films nowadays tend to be one offs that, generally speaking, do not make money. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, the Ian Drury biopic starring Andy Serkis, cost about £2 million but took only around £500,000 at the British box office; and The Scouting Book for Boys (stark but good), a little gem, which cost about the same, made only around £40,000 at the British box office. Stats via the BFI website. Do these films make their money back on DVD or through television licensing? I would be interested to know. Because if the films are not making a profit, they can hardly be expected to support an industry.

Britain has a film industry in the sense that a lot of American films are made here and we have some of the best behind the camera talent in the world working here. But a British film renaissance? First we need to make films that find an audience and make money. I don't know what the magic formula is - Film Four couldn't make it work - but if the profits are not coming back to Britain to be re-invested in British film then we can hardly claim to have an industry.

To that end, some of the examples given in the article are questionable. Harry Potter is about as British as James Bond (Irony! Both being owned by American studios), The King's Speech was a UK/Australian/French co-production with a token amount of money coming from the UK Film Council. And Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was a British story financed by a French distributor in the form of Studio Canal.

Where are the British distributors (like Studio Canal) which profit from and support national and regional productions? In the past there was Ealing, Hammer and The Carry On films, which were an industry unto themselves. What are their modern day equivalents? I would be interested to know.

This post is part of the British Picture series, in which I am trying to figure out what constitutes a British film.


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