Is British Cinema Stuck In a Rut?
With the awards season closing up shop for the year, British Cinema has once again failed to make an impression. Its box office receipts have been mediocre, and although An Education gained a lot of nominations, outside of the BAFTAs not much silverware actually came its way. This is becoming a trend, and it is a shame that in the last decade, British cinema has not made a real impact on the world. Of course, we are only a small nation in the grand schemes of things, but looking at the impact of our music, art and literature, from the Beatles to Hurst to even Barbara Cartland, it has always been commended, or at least best-selling. Aside from odd hits such as Shaun of the Dead, why is British cinema currently in the doldrums? In a purely commercial sense, British cinema has a lot of advantages over virtually every other nation in terms of getting its product seen and acclaimed. It has the same language as Hollywood, as well as an easily digestible similar culture. Pinewood is one of the premier film studios in the world , and is used to make blockbusters on a regular basis. It is a country obsessed with film and entertainment, and the success of someone like Edgar Wright showing the market is there. Yet it simply isn’t happening, or if it is, it is in the form of films like Keeping Mum and Once Upon A Time in the Midlands, with its safe, bankable laughs, and equally bankable stars. If ever the potential of British cinema as a financial and critical success needed to be shown, it need only be compared to UK television. British small-screen comedy goes from strength to strength, from Monty Python to Fawlty Towers to The Office and so on. “British humour” is just as much a phrase as Lynchian or Fellini-esque. Although not quite up to its American counterparts, shows like Silent Witness and Spooks have a massive audience of devoted fans. Even the lowest common denominators of games shows and light entertainment have been copied across the world. Yet the vast majority of films shown on British television are American. Of course there are exceptions, with Neil Marshall and Christopher Smith carving a nice place for themselves in the horror industry, but there can seem to be a lot of passion, but little actual reward. We might make one bit hit a year, but does the world really care? Is British cinema little more than the same old material trotted out for a small profit? The first problem is that British Cinema can be quite hard to pin down in terms of what exactly it is. The British director of Moon wins best newcomer at the BAFTAs, with the two main actors being the Americans Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey. Danny Boyle wins best Director and Best Film at the OCSARs, but he shoots in India. With so much of funding for British film coming from here, there and everywhere, how can British cinema claim an identity of its own? The real “hardcore” element of British Film could be seen to be in the gritty streets and filthy council flats of social realism. It has always been a big part of the British scene, and when done well it creates classics. The rise of Shane Meadows is the best example of the last decade, and since the eighties Mike Leigh and Ken Loach have outputting consistently acclaimed work . The genre can show us a lot about our society, as well providing some of the most harrowing, hilarious and legendary moment in cinema history. But it is too easy to look at the successes and see it as an easy, cheap to make template that all “good” British films must follow. In many ways, a lot of social realism gets so bogged down in the depression and poverty of some aspects of British life, and can actually lose touch of what it means to be British. It has a painfully small box office, which of course does not reflect the quality of the films, but does mean any social issues addressed fall on deaf ears. The films of Edgar Wright may be over the top comedies, but the little moments add up to a much more accurate portrayal of what it means to be British, whilst still being able to appeal to an international audience. It also must not forgotten that British cinema has a rich heritage of surrealism, and must not get stereotyped or stuck in a rut. Indeed, it has often found using odd imagery as the best way of proving a point. Lindsay Anderson’s IF... trilogy uses images that are both shocking and bizarre, but sums up the politics of Britain from the sixties to the eighties. There are other great examples like The Ruling Class (which has to be seen to be believed) and the wacky nature of some Ealing comedy from the forties and fifties. British cinema must break out of the boundaries it has created. It is neither Hollywood’s poorer cousin, nor is it consigned to making films about domestic abuse that scrape back their hundred grand budget. It must embrace the rich heritage and culture found in its own history, and the history of the nation. Only then can it become critically and financially successful.
Read Dylan's other 'Film Talk' articles: here, here and here