British film has experienced a remarkable revival this calendar year. On a commercial scale, the top three films at the UK box office are The King’s Speech, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and The Inbetweeners. Although the middle film is produced by Warner Bros., it is an unmistakably British franchise.
The quantity of cash raked in by the aforementioned trio is complemented by quality too. Although as someone who hasn’t seen The Inbetweeners film I can’t pass judgement on how it translated on to the cinema screen. But aside from the money-makers, the smaller films have also made it a vintage year for Blighty’s previously ailing and clichéd industry.
It was at the British Independent Film awards on Sunday night where the quality was keenly felt. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tyrannosaur, Shame, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Senna were the best picture nominees and could (or is that should) have the same accolade bestowed upon them Stateside. (Unfathomably, the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have not shortlisted Senna for best documentary, let alone best picture though.)
Unfortunately the quandary is that the public hasn’t seen some of them. This is not by virtue of laziness but via the lack of screens showing British films, which answers the question why British pictures were getting marginalised.
TTSS is an exception because it was a British blockbuster. There was palpable zeal ahead of its release thanks to the starry and home-grown cast blending the old (Gary Oldman and Colin Firth) and the young (Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch) as well as two blinding trailers. That’s without mentioning that it is based on an international bestseller and the memory of its revered 1979 BBC series.
Asif Kapadia’s Senna excelled because it innovatively used archive footage to tell the journey of a force of nature who tragically met his demise far too early. But because it was a documentary, it was allotted a limited release – and yet it still set a UK box office record for a documentary of £375,000 on its opening weekend.
Such success should provide ample evidence that the British cinema-goer is not that shallow or vacuous. And yet both Tyrannosaur and We Need to Talk About Kevin, two films which received immense buzz prior to their opening day, were only screened at selected cinemas. The majority of the public cannot justify forking out money on transport to see a film.
Last week I could not find a single cinema in my county (Kent) showing Terrence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea – another British film. It is not a micro-budget production; it features Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston in what has been likened to David Lean’s sweeping classic Brief Encounter (1946). Mercifully Lean is not directing in this era, otherwise we may never have known his grandiose gems.
Shame is exempted because it has yet to be released (it played at the London Film Festival, hence why it qualifies for accolades in 2011). Yet that too will inevitably appear only in selected cinemas because it's about a sex addict, played by Michael Fassbender, and acquired the dreaded NC-17 certificate in the US.
Nevertheless, Britain’s own residents are being starved of their own films because presumably we have to engage our brains. Maybe if producers attempted to communicate with their demographic they would allow extended releases. Film in the 21st century is not in rude health, yet on the rare exception when genuine quality arrives, it has already left the platform after a fleeting stay.
Bracketing different cultures into one demographic is ignorant and punishing. Even English-speakers’ attitudes are different. Britain is a much smaller country than America, so its thought process will inevitably differ to those across the Atlantic.
Plenty of cinephiles would happily see a Michael Bay flick receive the transitory time on screen as has befallen Paddy Considine’s directorial debut or Lynne Ramsay’s return after almost a decade. Mark Kermode, on his popular Radio 5 Live podcast, listed Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin as his film of the year in October. The problem was nobody could see it.
Not that anyone should choose to, but you can’t holler ‘The British are coming!’ because how great do we know Britain has become again?