British films are widely defined as ‘ feature-length films which are expected by their makers to receive theatrical distribution and for which either the financial or creative impulse comes from Britain. The guiding principle is to identify films that directly contribute to British film culture or to the culture of the British film industry.’ In the past scores of British films have never made it to the cinema being described as ‘lacking quality’ and being ‘average and unambitious’.
However recently people have commented on the ‘makeover’ in British Cinema. This ‘makeover’ refers to the increased popularity and commercial success of British Cinema in the UK and in some cases the US box offices. Also some British films have gained some excellent reviews from some of the world’s best-known film critics. There is no typical British film as they come in many different genres from the social realist northern comedy of East is East, the British gangster movies of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Face to the Costume drama/biopic of Mrs Brown and Young Elizabeth.
The only link between all these films is that they tackle issues that are typical representations of the British society and British national identity. An example of diversity in British Cinema since the 1990’s is Trainspotting. Trainspotting is a British made film which was based on Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel also titled Trainspotting. It was made in 1996 and was directed by Danny Boyle one of Britain’s hot directors of 1990’s who also directed Shallow Grave. Trainspotting tackles the issues of new ladism (which is present in the popular and successful British sitcom ‘Men Behaving Badly’), disaffected youth, drug addiction, themes of Scottishness, unemployment, poverty and societies norms.
Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting has a very clear distinction from other films that concentrate on male crisis. In most youth-orientated films young male joblessness and social exclusion are presented as either with no history, no proposed solution or no exception of change. As quoted by film critic Robert Wade, “Danny Boyle framed the male underclass not as a ‘social problem’ but as a subcultural ‘lifestyle’ with certain attractions for a young, post-political male audience”.
Rather than attempting to arouse anger or social outrage Trainspotting encourages a knowing, empathetic complicity between audiences and the films young male inhabitants. Trainspotting addresses the anxieties of young male viewers by portraying the young male underclass in terms of an appealing subculture of dissent from the demands of adulthood, women and work. This point is backed up by Renton (Ewan McGregor) philosophy in the film, which is “I choose not to choose life.”
Trainspotting was a very low budget film as it costed 1.7 million to produce with the funds being provided by Figment, Channel Four and Polygram. However Trainspotting was a box office success pulling in people, part of this success may be because of the aggressive distribution of Trainspotting in the UK from Film Fours Distribution Company ‘Film Four Distributions Limited’. Another example of diversity in British Cinema since the 1990’s is Mrs Brown. Mrs Brown was made in 1997 and was directed by British Director John Madden who also directed Shakespeare in Love.
The film is based on Queen Victoria (Judi Drench) in 1864, who at the time was in deep mourning for her husband Prince Albert after his sudden death. Her private secretary arranges for John Brown (Billy Connolly), her ghillie to bring her favourite horse down from Scotland. This then leads to Queen Victoria then developing a close relationship which becomes the subject of scandalous gossip in Victorian Society hence the film title ‘Mrs Brown’. Mrs Brown was a very low budget film as it costs only ï¿½1 million to produce with the funds being provided by BBC Films and BBC Scotland.
Mrs Brown was a very successful film in the US and the UK. An example of this success is that in the UK it was one of the films that made up to 23% of British box office successes in the UK in 1997. This may be because the narrative and the iconography shown in Mrs Brown are part of a very popular genre among audiences in the UK and US, this narrative and iconography are also shown in the film Young Elizabeth which was made in 1998 and directed by Shekhar Kapur. Toby Miller quoted that this is because “it is the preferred image of Britain showing heritage and tranquillity”
It also could have been down to the fact that the distribution of Mrs Brown was very aggressive especially in the US and was handled by the American distribution company Miramax who also distributed ‘The English Patient’ (Anthony Mingella 1996) and ‘Little Voice’ (Mark Horman 1998). Another example of diversity in British cinema since the 1990’s is East is East. East is East was made in 1999 and was directed by British director Damien O’Donnell and produced by Leslie Udwin
The film is a social realist comedy which is set in the 1970’s and concentrates on cultural diversity, cultural identity and cultural crisis. These themes in the film are embraced through two cultures; Christianity vs. Islam and the Northern Working Class vs. Asian’s. The film put across a very realist approach, an example being the inclusion of the Former conservative MP Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech which was said in the 1970’s and referred to the increasing number of immigrants who were living in England
The film is based on a mixed raced relationship with the father’s (Om Puri) religious beliefs being with Islam and the mother’s (Linda Bassett) religious beliefs being with Christianity. This leads the children to becoming very confused as they want to take up the British, Christian culture but the father will not let them as he wants them to take up the Pakistan, Islam culture and even arranges marriages behind his son’s back.
East is East costs 2.4 million to make but the response to the film surpassed expectations as the number of prints in circulation increased from 79 to 246 in the first few weeks. It took over 1 million in the first weekend and by the middle of 2000 had taken 10 million in British and foreign markets. East is East was suppose to being funded by FilmFour and the BBC, but the BBC pulled out at the last minute leaving FilmFour to fund it on their own with the support of the MEDIA programme. This turned out to be FilmFour’s gain and the BBC’s lost.