Accusations that the Danny Boyle directed film glamourised poverty did not stop it from winning eight Oscars, the best by a UK contender since The English Patient won nine in 1997, including the coveted Best Picture and Best Director awards.
Critics have been lauding the results as the culmination of a phenomenal year for British film, but is this year’s success really so out of the ordinary? British talent has always been strong in terms of behind the scenes work, as the winner of this year’s Best Costume Design, The Duchess, confirms. Make up artist Sue Plume, whose credits include Lord of the Rings and The Matrix trilogies, concurs. “What we are seeing is not a freak occurrence. British film has always been consistent, it’s just that this time we got the timing right” Asked whether she thought British film is perhaps overlooked in favour of the more glamourous American industry, she responded; “Certainly. British craft and design is second to none in the industry, but our films are often more subtle and wry than our American counterparts” (She goes on to cite Shane Meadows’ Somers Town, a film that many critics believe deserved a nomination)
Aside from all the glitz and posturing of the Academy Awards, British Film has been gaining momentum for some time. The Film Council, BBC Films and Film4 have all been instrumental in setting up funding, particularly for independent films. Tessa Ross, who is at the head of Film4, stressed the need to keep growing and progressing so that British film never falls into a slump. In 2008 alone British films included productions as diverse as Adulthood, The Chronicles of Narnia and Quantum of Solace, spanning the drama, fantasy and spy genres respectively.
From a financial point of view, the pound’s loss of strength against the US Dollar means that currently, British films are very attractive to American studios, an example being Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last in the Harry Potter franchise, funded by Warner Bros.
Critically, the films produced over the last decade have been a consistent success. Which makes the talk of a “golden age” in British film deceiving. British films normally eschew the sentimentality and mainstream techniques that are employed in Hollywood productions. Whilst this produces good reviews, it does not necessarily motivate the British public. Faced with an evening where they want to be entertained, they will still go and see an American blockbuster. The challenge for forthcoming British films is to retain integrity whilst simultaneously motivating the film-going public, which is why Slumdog Millionaire has been such a hit.
So, what lies ahead for British film? Despite the assistance provided by the aforementioned bodies (Film4 etc), independent films will find it difficult in the current financial climate, with many projects failing to get off the ground. With banks now reluctant to give out loans, funding is very difficult to come by without the backing of a major studio.
That said, upcoming British films are already showing signs of promise. The Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt (Devil Wears Prada) looks like it will be in the vein of the classic British costume drama, one which our film industry tend to produce so well, and something that our American cousins have yet to get to grips with. Also approaching is Bronson, the biopic of the murderer Charles Bronson that has already sparked controversy about its shocking subject matter. The Damned United is based on the book of the same name, depicting Brian Clough’s tenure as manager of Leeds United. Michael Sheen, fresh from his portrayal of David Frost in Froxt/Nixon, plays the title role, and looks to once again prove that he is an impersonator extraordinaire.
The upshot is that British film will continue to enjoy success as long as the likes of Winslet, Day-Lewis and Craig put in credible performances in front of the camera, and Boyle, Meadows et al produce similarly excellent performances behind it. Whilst funding may be hard to come by, in times of economic hardship, box office takings rocket, which can only be a good thing.