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Debate – The British Are Coming!


Posted January 15, 2015 by

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The British Are Coming!

It’s that time of year again when Hollywood’s elite come together to dish out awards to a bunch of people who star in movies that have only just been released, whilst the amazing performances throughout the year tend to be swept under the rug due to the fact that they were released a few months too early. This isn’t really news to anyone though. However, what does seem to be the recurring theme every year in the build up to the awards season is the British involvement. Every year Hollywood magazines and websites spout the headlines ‘The British Are Coming’ or ‘The British Invasion Has Arrived!’ claiming their surprise that British actors, actresses and films have risen to the top of this American-dominated industry. This year is no exception with ‘The Imitation Game’ along with its stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, as well as ‘The Theory of Everything’ starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones being just some of the British front runners for this year’s prizes. There was even surprise at the fact that Timothy Spall is somewhat absent in the nomination lists for his incredible performance in ‘Mr Turner’. This got me thinking. Why is it still an unexpected surprise? Why are Brits still seen as the underdog of the movie world?

The first point to look at is the British film industry in and of itself. When the majority of people think about British films a few stereotypes come to mind. It’s either the Richard Curtis rom-com movies, usually starring Hugh Grant, about a hapless man attempting to win over a woman that is way out of his league (Notting Hill, Four weddings and a Funeral etc.). Failing that, it’s the Guy Ritchie-esque East End gangster. The slightly rough around the edges kind of film that revolves around revenge, high violence and generally utilises a very British sense of humour that I imagine probably doesn’t translate too well to anyone outside of this small island. British movies just seem synonymous with indie movies. Films with small budgets, always set in London and often including darker elements in an attempt to give it some edge. Either that, or they are period pieces about the upper class aristocracy in the 19th century and the struggles that come with being rich. It’s fairly safe to say that the majority of cinema going audiences can’t relate to these at all. No one’s lives are actually like that right?

By this point I’m sure some of you are probably sat their creating lists of big blockbuster movies that are British and have been huge box office hits all over the world, but this is where my second point comes in to play. What actually makes a movie British?

If you look at it from an acting perspective, and assume that a British movie is a film that has a cast that is comprised of mainly British actors, then that doesn’t seem to be entirely true. If you take some of the biggest movies of the past few years that have had mainly British casts, you actually see a recurring theme. Let’s take the Hobbit franchise. The majority of the actors are British but it is seen as New Zealand film (as it should be), funded by American studios (New Line Cinema, MGM, that kind of thing), so therefore it’s most definitely not a British movie. Even British stalwarts like Harry Potter are funded by big American production companies and studios, so therefore don’t really contribute to the ‘British Film Industry’.

The other perspective to take is that if they are shot here, then they must be British, right? Well, no. A few years ago ‘Gravity’ was nominated for ‘Outstanding British Film’ at the BAFTA’s purely because it was shot here and the majority of the crew were British. However, the stars are American, the director is Mexican and the funding, yet again, is provided by the biggest and best in Hollywood. So whilst the British film industry classes it as a British film, the rest of the world doesn’t see it that way. Heck, if you are basing this kind of thing on where the movie is shot, then that means Britain gets to claim ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ (shot at Shepperton), ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ (shot at Elstree Studios) and the new live action ‘Cinderella’ (shot at Pinewood Studios). To further ram the point home, if this were the case ‘Noah’ would be an Icelandic film, ‘The Wolverine’ would be an Australian and Japanese film, and ‘James Bond’ would be the least British film franchise around.

All in all, the reason why I think there is surprise every year when British films and stars grace the nomination lists is because they fall in that awkward place somewhere in the middle. They’re not viewed as main stream unless attached to something big coming out of Hollywood, and they are seen as surprising entrants because the British film industry is still small and fighting for attention. The fact remains that whilst this small island has produced some of the greatest talent either to grace the screen or create the images you are watching, it contributes barely anything to the wider picture. That is why it is always ‘surprising’ when a Brit reaches the upper levels of American cinema and why they get so much focus placed on them.

To be quite frank with you though, who doesn’t love an underdog?


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Amy Ulliott
Just One More Movie
Freelance Contributor

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