Ahh ... The timeless conundrum ... What makes a film 'British'?
|Old blue-eyes is back ... |
Are '2001', 'Clockwork Orange' and 'Lawrence of Arabia' British? Depends on your terms of reference, I suppose. Although they were made in (and around) Britain ... They were made with American money. Does that matter? Debatable. 'Lawrence' is obviously *about* Britain and the British mentality ... And the reality is that Britain alone has never been able to afford to make a film on *such* a grand scale. It speaks volumes about British colonial ambition in a way that we, ironically, couldn't say without spending American money. So, yes, I'll happily call that an 'assisted win' for Britain.
|Stanley Kubrick: The man with the movie camera ...|
Did Kubick count as a British director by the late sixties? Possibly. Even if they weren't set here, his films were certainly made here and are shot through with a British sensibility ... Albeit seen from an American perspective. But what about Terry Gilliam? When he spent Universal's money to make his swinging satire of 80s Britain - Brazil - Did that stop it being a British film?
Okay, but what about putting the boot on the other foot ... What about Hitchcock? Can we claim any of his American films? The perversity and sarcasm at the heart of many of his films feels British. Psycho? Can we have that? Notorious? North By North West, even? They feel very British (or at least European) to me!
|Alfred Hitchcock on, seemingly, a tightrope.|
Are the Harry Potter films ours? Thanks to Ms Rowling's insistence, they *feel* British, gave work to a lot of British thesps and technicians and, of course, where shot here ... But every penny of the profits goes back to Warner Brothers' vault in Gringotts. Does that make them British?
I feel this question has a bit of an Andy Murray feel about it ... If they're hits, we'll claim them; if they're flops, they're all yours (unless, like me, your inherent perversity makes the opposite response more likely).
To my mind - and what I've always taught my students - is that the money *does* matter. British films are 'Financially British'. A film can have a British identity, a British feel, it can tell the world about Britishness ... But it is *not* itself British if a significant amount of the production budget didn't originate here and/or the bulk of the profits don't stay here.
So, with that entirely arbitrary rule in place ... Here's my ha'penny worth, in purely chronological order (and I'm happy to be corrected if I'm mistaken in thinking these films qualify as 'financially British') ...
|Horribly hand-coloured lobby-card from the wonderfully monochrome 'School for Scoundrels'|
School for Scoundrels (1960 – ABPC) How does one choose just one Alistair Sim or Terry-Thomas film? And why this one above Belles of St. Trinians or I’m Alright, Jack, say? I don’t know. I just find this film irresistible; whenever it makes one of its regular Saturday afternoon appearances on TV, that’s me spoken-for for a couple of hours. The humour is so delightfully cynical and the third act offers the most perfect revenge comedy in all cinema.
|Moodily monochromatic shot from the gloriously colourful ... You get the idea ...|
The Wicker Man (1973 - British Lion - although I gather they were bought-up or bailed-out by EMI, I believe that was still a British company at the time). One of those films which still delights ... The more often you see it, the more you see in it and it's a *great* film to show modern teenage film students because they've never heard of it - So the ending catches them completely off guard.
|All together now: "We're just haaangin around ... Haaaangin' arooooound ..."|
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979 – Handmade Films) This has just edged out both Time Bandits and The Long Good Friday, ’cos I don’t want Handmade Films to dominate my list, which they very easily could! The money famously came from a Beatle mortgaging his house … But the end result is probably the cleverest and most ambitious comedy made since the glory-days of Ealing. And why haven’t I included any Ealing? Same reason there’s no Hammer … Cos I only have five films!
|Five little fingers ... But which one's Pinky? (Sorry ... I'm getting tired, here)|
Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982 - EMI) I have long maintained that Alan Parker is tragically overlooked when one considers the history of British film of the 70s and 80s. He did pretty much everything Ridley Scott did, he often did it sooner, sometimes did it better, and generally set it to music! Obviously, to tolerate The Wall, one has to be up for 90-odd minutes of Roger Waters’ self-flagellation, which I certainly am. Back in the 80s, this was the first VHS tape I bought (as opposed to renting), and I watched it time and again, getting a headache every time from frowning as I tried to fathom the meaning of every frame.
|You can't just call ANY film British ... This isn't Viet-Nam ... There are rules!|
The Big Lebowski (1998 – Working Title) Yes, I’m being awkward now but this film was co-funded by Working Title (who paid, at least in part, for The Coens’ Fargo and O Brother Where Art Thou) … So it’s British. Through and through! Let’s be honest, would anything as uniquely odd-ball have been produced by a mainstream American production company? I doubt it. Besides, it really does hold my list together.
So ... Thoughts: