Across the Pond
Here is a small but important fact you may not know about British film. Whenever Oscar buzz begins to build, the talk in Britain is always about only one thing: the year 1981 when a little British movie, Chariots of Fire, won Awards for both the Best Picture and Best Screenplay.
What stirs the populace in the country is not so much that the film won -- it was as popular at home as it was globally -- but the acceptance speech that the two big awards provoked.
On hand to clutch his coveted golden statue with undisguised enthusiasm was the writer, Colin Welland, and the gist of his speech can be summed up in four crucial words: “The British are coming!”
There is still some debate as to what he meant by this announcement but it suggested that British filmmakers were going to conquer the world.
That, having been successful in the fifties and sixties, they would soon be surpassing those past glories or, at the very least, rivalling them after a something of a lean patch during the seventies when American cinema was having a renaissance.
In America, during the past decade, a stack of radical independent filmmakers, like Scorcese and Coppola, had created daring new films while in Britain the talent seemed to have gone off the boil. Now, according to the exuberant Welland, everyone should get ready, the Brits were about to rampage again on the heels of Chariots’s triumph.
Alas, that enchanting euphoria has never been fulfilled or, according to most British pundits, even remotely approached.
It is probably impossible for Americans to realise just how lamentable is the state of the “film industry” in Britain, for there have been various distracting successes during the last quarter century.
The British are forever up for awards and figured largely in the recent Golden Globes, snapping up the Best Film (Atonement) and Best Actress (Julie Christie). And there are always a few big, popular hits, from the Harry Potters to James Bonds.
Obviously Britain can still make a few good films now and then.
The regret is that beyond these few there is hardly any film business done at all. Money is always in short supply making it difficult to develop decent scripts, let alone to shoot them. And even if something independent does get made by some risk taking director maxing out his credit cards, Hollywood still floods the cinemas.
In frustration at the lack of opportunity at home, the best of the British -- the top directors, writers, actors and talent in all other categories -- decamp to Los Angeles or New York to adopt the Hollywood mantle, robbing Britain of its trump cards.
Does it always have to be that way? Should it even be that way?
Surely not. Cinema is an art form and it deserves to thrive in Britain as well as anywhere else, giving a voice to imaginative minds and actors at home.
This goal -- to create a vibrant, entertaining local film industry -- inspired the creation of Britishfilmmagazine.com last spring. The idea was to create a global forum celebrating all that the country does best cinematically, to build the confidence of the British in Britain and to entertain film fans around the world, including America, with news of the exciting things that are happening in the country, beyond the well-known titles of the handful of films that scoop awards every year.
Britishfilmmagazine.com might just attract the kind of popular support for British filmmaking that would allow it finally to develop and flourish, which would be a wonderful result both for Brits in the business and for British filmgoers, but also good news for film fans globally if they enjoy the work that Britain at its best has to offer. Britishfilmmagazine.com is approaching its first anniversary and still growing but already regularly attracting and amusing new readers around the world with details on every aspect of British film from scriptwriting and location reports to the emerging stars and Festival successes.
The British may not yet have arrived quite as Colin Welland predicted all those years ago. But there is now one more reason to believe they may finally be on their way.
Visit Britishfilmmagazine.com now and whenever you might want to know what’s happening with film in Britain.
(Photo: Terence Doyle, Founder/Editor of Britishfilmmagazine.com)