British like American films

Cinema in Europe

John Hill

To person

Prof. John Hill has been teaching at the Royal Holloway - University of London, Department of Media Arts since 2004. He is the author of "British Cinema in the 1980s" (Oxford 1999). Numerous other publications on British and Irish cinema in specialist magazines.

British cinema is known for blockbuster films such as "James Bond" and "Bridget Jones". Nevertheless, smaller film productions such as "Billy Elliot" and "Kick it like Beckham" are celebrating ever greater successes. John Hill explains the importance of state film funding.

British actor Roger Moore as agent 007, James Bond, on filming. (& copy AP)
In his speech on the creation of the UK Film Council in May 2000, then Chairman Alan Parker said: "In the UK film industry, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether we are riding the waves or going under" . British cinema has both strengths and weaknesses. After reaching a record low of 54 million in 1984, the number of visitors has risen steadily since then and reached a little more than 162 million visitors in 2007. There has also been a significant increase in the number of movie theaters (though not individual theaters) since the first multi-movie theaters opened in 1985. These multiple theaters now make up around 75 percent of all movie theaters in the UK.


Film production remained buoyant with around 100 films made in the UK (up from 171 in 2003). In the past few years there have been some extraordinary commercial successes: "The Full Monty" 1997, "Notting Hill" 1999, "Bridget Jones's Diary" 2001 and "Hot Fuzz" 2007. Due to tax incentives, UK film production amounts are substantial - they were £ 747 million in 2007 - British studios like Pinewood and Shepperton have hosted Hollywood productions including "Casino Royale", "Sweeney Todd", "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "The Dark Knight". Some of these works were directed by British directors (Martin Campbell, Paul Greengrass, Christopher Nolan) and British actors starred in the films, thereby contributing to Hollywood productions.

Structures of the film industry

"Bridget Jones" movie poster. (& copy AP)
As impressive as these successes may be, they only tell part of the story. While UK viewership is growing, Hollywood benefits much more than the UK film industry. In recent years, Hollywood films have generally accounted for 70 percent, and sometimes 80 percent, of cinema revenues in the UK and Northern Ireland. This shows that subsidiaries of the major Hollywood film companies dominate UK film distribution. These include: Universal, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, Walt Disney and Sony Pictures, which together account for over 80 percent of total UK cinema revenues. It is therefore hardly a surprise that the best performing British films are those financed and distributed by the major Hollywood film companies. For example, "The Full Monty" was funded by Twentieth Century Fox through its subsidiary Fox Searchlight. "Notting Hill" and "Bridget Jones' Diary" as well as Hot Fuzz were handled by Universal with the precautionary measure to hire Hollywood stars (Julia Roberts and Renée Zellweger, respectively). Given the huge global power of Hollywood, Americans have a clear economic advantage in cooperation between the United States and Great Britain - with the logical consequence that the majority of British films, which have no connection to the major Hollywood film companies, have greater difficulties has to gain a foothold in the market and become widely distributed.

One reason for this is that there is no longer a unified film industry in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In the 1940s and 1950s, Britain had its own humble equivalent of the Hollywood studio system. Two British companies - Rank and ABPC - produced films in their own studios (in Pinewood and Elstree) for distribution to their own movie theaters (the Odeon and ABC chains). With the decline in cinema attendance since the 1950s, the economic basis of the system - big enough viewers in the country to maintain profitability - collapsed and the two British companies withdrew. First from production and then also from sales and film screening. So it was the symbolic end of an era when Rank - once the biggest name in the British film business - sold the Odeon cinema chain in the spring of 2000.

Because of their ties to Universal and Fox, it's just the hugely successful Working Title - the production company responsible for "Notting Hill" the two "Bridget Jones" films, and "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" - and DNA Films - responsible for " 28 Days Later "," The Last King of Scotland "and" Sunshine "- which has the means to sustain a regular series of film productions. British films are typically produced by small independent production companies on an irregular or one-off basis.

Funding comes from a variety of sources, including international pre-sale distribution activities, funding from government sponsored agencies (mainly the UK Film Council) and from television companies (especially the BBC and Channel 4). Channel 4 is particularly important to British film production. It was founded in 1982 and took an example from German and Italian television, which finances films that are intended for the cinemas before they are shown on television. At a time when both private and public funding for British film was scarce, Channel 4 threw a lifeline to the film industry in the UK and Northern Ireland and participated in many of the most successful or critically acclaimed films of the 1980s and 1990s such as "My Beautiful Laundrette" (Stephen Frears, 1985), "Caravaggio" (Derek Jarman, 1986), "Distant Voices, Still Lives" (Terence Davies, 1988), "Riff-Raff" (Ken Loach, 1990), "The Crying Game "(Neil Jordan, 1992)," Trainspotting "(Danny Boyle, 1996)," Secrets and Lies "(Mike Leigh, 1996) and" East is East "(Damien O'Donnell, 1999).

Channel 4's cultural seal of approval and international profile encouraged other UK television companies, including the BBC, to follow suit. The BBC has had an extraordinary history of film production due to dramas by renowned directors such as Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Stephen Frears. Although these productions were feature films, they were only shown on television and it was not until the early 1990s that the BBC began to invest specifically in films intended for first-showing in theaters. This led to the establishment of the BBC Films company, which has since maintained a steady stake in film production by investing in films such as "Mrs Brown" (John Madden, 1997), "Wonderland" (Michael Winterbottom, 1999), "Ratcatcher" (Lynne Ramsay, 1999), "Last Resort" (Pawel Pawlikowski, 2000) and "Red Road" (Andrea Arnold, 2006).

The BBC and Channel 4 are two public broadcasters and their involvement in film production is based in part on the ability to subsidize the film production through royalty (in the case of the BBC) or advertising revenue (in the case of Channel 4). However, with the increase in cable, satellite and digital services since the 1990s, competition for television viewers has intensified, with an increased emphasis on commercial profit. This had disastrous consequences for Channel 4, which founded FilmFour, a "commercial subsidiary". The aim was to run more commercial projects with higher budgets. Society collapsed after the flop of "Lucky Break" and "Charlotte Gray" and Channel 4 has since been on modest budget projects that are culturally innovative, such as "This is England" (Shane Meadows, 2007) and the feature film debut by artist Steve McQueen "Hunger" (2008) has returned.