Cinema of the United Kingdom

Cinema of the United Kingdom
Cinema of the
United Kingdom
List of British films
1930 1931 1932 1933 1934
1935 1936 1937 1938 1939
1940 1941 1942 1943 1944
1945 1946 1947 1948 1949
1950 1951 1952 1953 1954
1955 1956 1957 1958 1959
1960 1961 1962 1963 1964
1965 1966 1967 1968 1969
1970 1971 1972 1973 1974
1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
1980 1981 1982 1983 1984
1985 1986 1987 1988 1989
1990 1991 1992 1993 1994
1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
2010 2011

The United Kingdom has had a major influence on modern cinema. The first moving pictures developed on celluloid film were made in Hyde Park, London in 1889 by William Friese Greene, a British inventor, who patented the process in 1890. It is generally regarded that the British film industry enjoyed a 'golden age' in the 1940s, led by the studios of J. Arthur Rank and Alexander Korda.

The British directors Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean are among the most critically acclaimed of all-time,[1] with other important directors including Charlie Chaplin,[2] Michael Powell,[3] Carol Reed[4] and Ridley Scott.[5] Many British actors have achieved international fame and critical success, including Julie Andrews,[6] Richard Burton,[7] Michael Caine,[8] Charlie Chaplin,[9] Sean Connery,[10] Vivien Leigh,[11] David Niven,[12] Laurence Olivier,[13] Peter Sellers[14] and Kate Winslet.[15] Some of the most commercially successful films of all time have been produced in the United Kingdom, including the two highest-grossing film franchises (Harry Potter and James Bond).[16] Ealing Studios has a claim to being the oldest continuously working film studio facility in the world.[17]

Despite a history of important and successful productions, the industry has often been characterised by a debate about its identity and the level of American and European influence. Many British films are co-productions with American producers, often using both British and American actors, and British actors feature regularly in Hollywood films. Many successful Hollywood films have been based on British people, stories or events, including Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean and the 'English Cycle' of Disney animated films.[18]

In 2009 British films grossed around $2 billion worldwide and achieved a market share of around 7% globally and 17% in the United Kingdom.[19] UK box-office takings totalled £944 million in 2009, with around 173 million admissions.[19] The British Film Institute has produced a poll ranking what they consider to be the 100 greatest British films of all time, the BFI Top 100 British films.[20] The annual British Academy Film Awards hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts are the British equivalent of the Oscars.[21]



UK film production from 1912 to 2003.

Film production in the UK has experienced a number of booms and recessions. Although many factors can be used to measure the success of the industry, the number of British films produced each year[22] gives an overview of its development: the industry experienced a boom as it first developed in the 1910s (see 1910s in film), but during the 1920s (see 1920s in film) experienced a recession caused by US competition and commercial practices. The Cinematograph Films Act 1927 introduced protective measures, leading to recovery and an all-time production high of 192 films in 1936 (see 1936 in film). Production then declined for a number of years. Film production recovered after the war, with a long period of relative stability and growing American investment. But another recession hit the industry in the mid-1970s (see 1970s in film), reaching an all-time low of 24 films in 1981 (see 1981 in film). Low production continued throughout the 1980s (see 1980s in film), but it increased again in the 1990s (see 1990s in film) with renewed private and public investment. Although production levels give an overview, the history of British cinema is complex, with various cultural movements developing independently. Some of the most successful films were made during 'recessions', such as Chariots of Fire (1981).

The film industry remains an important earner for the British economy. According to a UK Film Council press release of 20 January 2011, £1.115 billion was spent on UK film production during 2010.


Early British cinema

William Friese Greene.

Modern cinema is generally regarded as descending from the work of the French Lumière brothers in 1895, and their show first came to London in 1896. However, the first moving picture was shot in Leeds by Louis Le Prince in 1888[23][24] and the first moving pictures developed on celluloid film were made in Hyde Park, London in 1889 by William Friese Greene, a British inventor, who patented the process in 1890.

The first people to build and run a working 35 mm camera in Britain were Robert W. Paul and Birt Acres. They made the first British film Incident at Clovelly Cottage in February 1895, shortly before falling out over the camera's patent. Soon several British film companies had opened to meet the demand for new films, such as Mitchell and Kenyon in Blackburn. From 1898 American producer Charles Urban expanded the London-based Warwick Trading Company to produce British films, mostly documentary and news. He later formed his own Charles Urban Trading Company, which also produced early colour films. Although the earliest British films were of everyday events, the early 20th century saw the appearance of narrative shorts, mainly comedies and melodramas. Popular and pioneering film makers included the Bamforths in Yorkshire, William Haggar and his family business in Wales and Frank Mottershaw whose film, A Daring Daylight Robbery, started the chase genre. The early films were often melodramatic in tone, and there was a distinct preference for storylines which were already known to the audience - in particular adaptations of Shakespeare plays and Dickens' novels.

In 1920 the short-lived company Minerva Films was founded in London by the actor Leslie Howard (also producer and director) and his friend and story editor Adrian Brunel. Some of their early films include four written by A.A.Milne including The Bump, starring Aubrey Smith; Twice Two; Five Pound Reward; and Bookworms.[25] Some of these films survive in the archives of the British Film Institute.

The 1930s boom

By the mid-twenties the British film industry was losing out to heavy competition from Hollywood, the latter helped by having a much larger home market. in 1914 (see 1914 in film), 25% of films shown in the UK were British — by 1926 this had fallen to 5%. The Cinematograph Films Act 1927 was passed in order to boost local production, requiring that cinemas show a certain percentage of British films. The act was technically a success, with audiences for British films becoming larger than the quota required. But it had the effect of creating a market for 'quota quickies': poor quality, low cost films, made in order to satisfy the quota. Some critics have blamed the quickies for holding back the development of the industry. However, many British film-makers learnt their craft making these films, including Michael Powell and Alfred Hitchcock.

In the silent era, with English actor Charlie Chaplin its biggest star, audiences were receptive to films from all nations. However, with the advent of sound films, many foreign actors or those with strong regional accents soon found themselves in less demand, and more 'formal' English (received pronunciation) became the norm. Sound also increased the influence of already popular American films.

Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929) is regarded as the first British sound feature. It was a part-talkie with a synchronised score and sound effects. Later the same year, the first all-talking British feature, The Clue of the New Pin (1929) was released. It was based on a novel by Edgar Wallace, starring Donald Calthrop, Benita Home and Fred Raines, made by British Lion at their Beaconsfield Studios. The first all-colour sound feature (shot silent but with a soundtrack added) was released in the year and was entitled A Romance of Seville (1929). It was produced by British International Pictures and starred Alexander D'Arcy and Marguerite Allan. In 1930, the first all-colour all-talking British feature, Harmony Heaven (1930), was released. It was also produced by British International Pictures and starred Polly Ward and Stuart Hall. A number of all-talking films containing colour sequences, mostly musicals, were also released in the same year. The School for Scandal (1930) was the second all-talking feature to be filmed entirely in colour.

Starting with John Grierson's Drifters, the 1930s saw the emergence of a new school of realist documentary films: the Documentary Film Movement. It was Grierson who coined the term "documentary" to describe a non-fiction film, and he produced the movement's most celebrated film of the 1930s, Night Mail (1936), written and directed by Basil Wright and Harry Watt, and incorporating the poem by W. H. Auden. Other key figures in this movement were Humphrey Jennings, Paul Rotha and Alberto Cavalcanti. Many of them would go on to produce important films during World War II.

Several other new talents emerged during this period, and Alfred Hitchcock would confirm his status as one of the UK's leading young directors with his influential thrillers The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938), before moving to Hollywood.

Music hall also proved influential in comedy films of this period, and a number of popular personalities emerged, including George Formby, Gracie Fields, Jessie Matthews and Will Hay. These stars often made several films a year, and their productions remained important for morale purposes during the second world war.

Many of the most important British productions of the 1930s were produced by London Films, founded by the Hungarian emigre Alexander Korda. These included Things to Come (1936), Rembrandt (1936) and Knight Without Armour (1937), as well as the early Technicolor films The Drum (1938), The Four Feathers (1939) and The Thief of Bagdad (1940). These had followed closely on from Wings of the Morning (1937), the UK's first colour feature film in the new three colour process (previous colour features had used a two colour process).

After the boom years of the late 1920s and early 1930s, rising expenditure and over-optimistic expansion into the American market caused the production bubble to burst in 1937. Of the 640 British production companies registered between 1925 and 1936, 20 were still going in 1937. Moreover, the 1927 Films Act was up for renewal. The replacement Cinematograph Films Act 1938 provided incentives for UK companies to make fewer films of higher quality and, influenced by world politics, encouraged American investment and imports. One result was the creation by the American company MGM of an English studio MGM-British in Hertfordshire, which produced some very successful films, including A Yank at Oxford (1938) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), before World War II intervened.

World War II

The constraints imposed by World War II seemed to give new energy to the British film industry. After a faltering start, British films began to make increasing use of documentary techniques and former documentary film-makers to make more realistic films, many of which helped to shape the popular image of the nation at war. Among the best known of these films are In Which We Serve (1942), Went the Day Well? (1942), We Dive at Dawn (1943), Millions Like Us (1943) and The Way Ahead (1944). In the later war years Gainsborough Studios produced a series of critically derided but immensely popular period melodramas including The Man in Grey (1943) and The Wicked Lady (1945). These helped to create a new generation of British stars, such as Stewart Granger, Margaret Lockwood and James Mason.

Two Cities Films, an independent production company also made some important films including This Happy Breed (1944), Blithe Spirit (1945) and Sir Laurence Olivier's Henry V (1944) and Hamlet (1948).

The war years also saw the flowering of the Powell and Pressburger partnership with films like 49th Parallel (1941), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) and A Canterbury Tale (1944) which, while set in wartime, were very much about the people affected by war rather than battles.

Post-war cinema

Towards the end of the 1940s, the Rank Organisation, founded in 1937 by J. Arthur Rank, became the dominant force behind British film-making. It acquired a number of British studios, and bank-rolled some of the great British film-makers which were emerging in this period.

Building on the success British cinema had enjoyed during World War II, the industry hit new heights of creativity in the immediate post-war years. Among the most significant films produced during this period were David Lean's Brief Encounter (1945) and his Dickens adaptations Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), Carol Reed's thrillers Odd Man Out (1947) and The Third Man (1949), and Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1946) and The Red Shoes (1948). British cinema's growing international reputation was enhanced by the success of The Red Shoes, the most commercially successful film of its year in the U.S., and by Laurence Olivier's Hamlet, the first non-American film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Ealing Studios (financially backed by J. Arthur Rank) embarked on their series of celebrated comedies, including Whisky Galore (1948), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and The Man in the White Suit (1951).

In the 1950s (see 1950s in film) the industry began to retreat slightly from the prestige productions which had made British films successful worldwide, and began to concentrate on popular comedies and World War II dramas aimed more squarely at the domestic audience. The war films were often based on true stories and made in a similar low-key style to their wartime predecessors. They helped to make stars of actors like John Mills, Jack Hawkins and Kenneth More, and some of the most successful included The Cruel Sea (1953), The Dam Busters (1954), The Colditz Story (1955) and Reach for the Sky (1956).

Popular comedy series included the St Trinians films and the "Doctor" series, beginning with Doctor in the House in 1954. The latter series starred Dirk Bogarde, probably the British industry's most popular star of the 1950s. Bogarde was later replaced by Michael Craig and Leslie Phillips, and the series continued until 1970. The Rank Organisation also produced some other notable comedy successes, such as Genevieve in 1953 (see 1953 in film).

The writer/director/producer team of twin brothers John and Roy Boulting also produced a series of successful satires on British life and institutions, beginning with Private's Progress (1956), and continuing with Brothers in Law (1957), Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1958), I'm All Right Jack (1959) and Heavens Above! (1963). The Italian director-producer Mario Zampi also made a number of successful black comedies, including Laughter in Paradise (1951), The Naked Truth (1957) and Too Many Crooks (1958).

After a string of successful films, including the comedies The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953) and The Ladykillers (1955), as well as dramas like Dead of Night, Scott of the Antarctic and The Cruel Sea, Ealing Studios finally ceased production in 1958, and the studios were taken over by the BBC for television production.

Less restrictive censorship towards the end of the 1950s encouraged B-movie producer Hammer Films to embark on their series of influential and wildly successful horror films. Beginning with black and white adaptations of Nigel Kneale's BBC science fiction serials The Quatermass Experiment (1955) and Quatermass II (1957), Hammer quickly graduated to deceptively lavish colour versions of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy. Their enormous commercial success encouraged them to turn out sequel after sequel, and led to an explosion in horror film production in the UK that would last for nearly two decades. Hammer would dominate British horror production throughout this period with acclaimed English actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee at the forefront, but other companies were created specifically to meet the new demand, including Amicus Productions and Tigon British.

The British New Wave

The term British New Wave, or "Kitchen Sink Realism", is used to describe a group of commercial feature films made between 1955 and 1963 which portrayed a more gritty form of social realism than had been seen in British cinema previously. The British New Wave feature films are often associated with a new openness about working class life (e.g. A Taste of Honey, 1961), and previously taboo issues such as abortion and homosexuality (e.g. The Leather Boys, 1964).

The New Wave filmmakers were influenced by the documentary film movement known as "Free Cinema". Free Cinema emerged in the mid-1950s and was named by Lindsay Anderson in 1956 (see 1956 in film). They were also influenced by the Angry Young Men, who were writing plays and literature from the mid-1950s, and the documentary films of everyday life commissioned by the British Post Office, Ministry of Information, and several commercial sponsors such as Ford of Britain, during and after the Second World War.

The films were personal, poetic, imaginative in their use of sound and narration, and featured ordinary working-class people with sympathy and respect. In this respect they were the inheritors of the tradition of Mass Observation and Humphrey Jennings. The 1956 statement of the Free Cinema gives the following precepts: "No film can be too personal. The image speaks. Sounds amplifies and comments. Size is irrelevant. Perfection is not an aim. An attitude means a style. A style means an attitude."

A group of key filmmakers was established around the film magazine Sequence which was founded by Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz and Lindsay Anderson who had all made documentary films such as Anderson's Every Day Except Christmas and Richardson's Momma Don't Allow.

Together with future James Bond producer Harry Saltzman, John Osborne and Tony Richardson established the company Woodfall Films to produce their early feature films. These included adaptations of Richardson's stage productions of Look Back in Anger with Richard Burton and The Entertainer with Laurence Olivier. Other significant films in this movement include Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), A Kind of Loving (1962), and This Sporting Life (1963).

After Richardson's film of Tom Jones became a big hit the group broke up to pursue different interests. The films also made stars out of their leading actors Albert Finney, Alan Bates, Rita Tushingham, Richard Harris and Tom Courtenay.

The 1960s Boom

In the 1960s (see 1960s in film) British studios began to enjoy major success in the international market with a string of films that displayed a more liberated attitude to sex, capitalising on the "swinging London" image propagated by Time magazine. Films like Darling, Alfie, Georgy Girl, and The Knack …and How to Get It all explored this phenomenon, while Blowup, Repulsion and later Women in Love, broke taboos around the portrayal of sex and nudity on screen.

At the same time, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli combined sex with exotic locations, casual violence and self-referential humour in the phenomenally successful James Bond series with Sean Connery in the leading role. The first film Dr. No was a sleeper hit in the UK in 1962 (see 1962 in film), and the second, From Russia with Love (1963), a hit worldwide. By the time of the third film, Goldfinger (1964), the series had become a global phenomenon, reaching its commercial peak with Thunderball the following year.

The series success led to a spy film boom, with The Liquidator (1965), Modesty Blaise (1966), Sebastian (1968) and the Bulldog Drummond spoofs, Deadlier Than the Male (1967) and Some Girls Do (1968) among the results. Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman had also instigated a rival series of more realistic spy films based on the novels of Len Deighton. Michael Caine starred as bespectacled spy Harry Palmer in The IPCRESS File (1965), Funeral in Berlin (1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967), and the success of these ushered in a cycle of downbeat espionage films in the manner of the novels of John le Carré, including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) and The Deadly Affair (1966).

Overseas film makers were also attracted to the UK at this time. Polish film maker Roman Polanski made Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-sac (1966) in London and Northumberland respectively, before attracting the attention of Hollywood. Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni filmed Blowup (1966) with David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave, and François Truffaut directed his only film made outside France, the science fiction parable Fahrenheit 451 in 1966 (see 1966 in film).

American directors were regularly working in London throughout the decade, but several became permanent residents in the UK. Blacklisted in America, Joseph Losey had a significant influence on British cinema in the 60s, particularly with his collaborations with playwright Harold Pinter and leading man Dirk Bogarde, including The Servant (1963) and Accident (1967). Voluntary emigres Stanley Kubrick and Richard Lester were also influential. Lester had major hits with The Knack …and How to Get It (1965), and The Beatles films A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965), after which it became standard for each new pop group to have a verité style feature film made about them. Kubrick settled in Hertfordshire in the early 60s and would remain in England for the rest of his career. The special effects team assembled to work on his 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey would add significantly to the British industry's importance in this field over the following decades.

The success of these films and others as diverse as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Tom Jones (1963), Zulu (1964) and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965) encouraged American studios to invest significantly in British film production. Major films like Becket (1964), A Man for All Seasons (1966), Khartoum (1966) and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) were regularly mounted, while smaller-scale films including Billy Liar (1963), Accident (1967) and Women in Love (1969) were big critical successes. Four of the decade's Academy Award winners for best picture were British productions, including six Oscars for the film musical Oliver! (1968), based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist.

Towards the end of the decade social realism was beginning to make its way back into British films again. Influenced by his work on the Wednesday Play on British television, Ken Loach directed the realistic dramas Poor Cow and Kes.

The 1970s

Peter Ustinov, who starred as Hercule Poirot in 1978's Death on the Nile.

With the film industry in both the United Kingdom and the United States entering into recession, American studios cut back on domestic production, and in many cases withdrew from financing British films altogether. Major films were still being made at this time, including Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), Battle of Britain (1969), Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) and David Lean's Ryan's Daughter (1970), but as the decade wore on financing became increasingly hard to come by. Large-scale productions were still being mounted, but they were more sporadic and sometimes seemed old-fashioned compared with the competition from America. Among the more successful were adaptations of the Agatha Christie stories Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978). Other notable films included the Edwardian drama The Go-Between, which won the Palme d'Or at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, Alfred Hitchcock's final British film Frenzy (1972), Nicolas Roeg's Venice-set supernatural thriller Don't Look Now (1973) and Mike Hodges' gangster drama Get Carter (1971) starring Michael Caine. Other productions like Shout at the Devil (1976) fared less well, while the entry of Lew Grade's company ITC into film production in the latter half of the decade brought only a few box office successes and an unsustainable number of failures. Other epic productions such as Richard Attenborough's Young Winston (1972) and A Bridge Too Far (1977) met with mixed commercial success.

The British horror boom of the 1960s also finally came to an end by the mid-1970s, with the leading producers Hammer and Amicus leaving the genre altogether in the face of competition from independents in the United States. Films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) made Hammer's vampire films seem increasingly tame and outdated, despite attempts to spice up the formula with added nudity and gore. Although some attempts were made to broaden the range of British horror films, such as the comic Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter or the cult favourite The Wicker Man, these films made little impact at the box office, and the horror boom was finally over by the middle of the decade.

Roger Moore, who starred as James Bond in seven films between 1973 and 1985.

Some British producers, including Hammer, turned to television series for inspiration, and the big screen versions of shows like Steptoe and Son and On the Buses proved successful with domestic audiences. The other major influence on British comedy films in the decade was the Monty Python group, also from television. Their two most successful films were Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), the latter a major commercial success, probably at least in part due to the considerable controversy surrounding its release.

The continued presence of the Eady levy in the 1970s, combined with a loosening of censorship rules, also brought on a minor boom of low-budget British sex comedies and softcore porn movies. Most notable among these were films starring Mary Millington such as Come Play with Me, and the Confessions of... series starring Robin Askwith, beginning with Confessions of a Window Cleaner.

More relaxed censorship in the 1970s also brought several controversial films, including Ken Russell's The Devils (1970), Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs (1971), Quadrophenia (1979), and Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971).

The late 1970s at least saw a revival of the James Bond series with The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977 (see 1977 in film). However, the next film, Moonraker (1979), broke with tradition by filming at studios in France to take advantage of tax incentives there. Some American productions did return to the major British studios in 1977-79, including Star Wars at Elstree Studios, Superman at Pinewood, and Alien at Shepperton.

The 1980s: Renaissance and Recession

Although major American productions, such as The Empire Strikes Back and Superman II, continued to be filmed at British studios in the 1980s, the decade began with the worst recession the British film industry had ever seen. In 1980 (see 1980 in film) only 31 British films were made, down 50% on the previous year, and the lowest output since 1914. Production was down again the following year, to 24 films. However, the 1980s soon saw a renewed optimism, led by companies such as Goldcrest (and producer David Puttnam), Channel 4, Handmade Films and Merchant Ivory Productions. Under producer Puttnam a generation of British directors emerged making popular films with international distribution, including: Bill Forsyth (Local Hero, 1983), Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire, 1981) and Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields, 1984)

When the Puttnam-produced Chariots of Fire (1981) won 4 Academy Awards in 1982 (see 1982 in film), including best picture, its writer Colin Welland declared "the British are coming!" (quoting Paul Revere). When in 1983 (see 1983 in film) Gandhi (also produced by Goldcrest) picked up best picture it looked as if he was right. It prompted a cycle of bigger budget period films, including David Lean's final film A Passage to India (1984) and the Merchant Ivory adaptations of the works of E. M. Forster, such as A Room with a View (1986). However, further attempts to make 'big' productions for the US market ended in failure, with Goldcrest losing independence after a trio of commercial flops, including the 1986 Palme d'Or winner The Mission. However, by this stage the rest of the new talent had moved on to Hollywood.

Handmade Films, part owned by George Harrison, produced a series of comedies and gritty dramas such as The Long Good Friday (1980) and Withnail and I (1987) that had proven popular internationally and have since achieved cult success. The company was originally formed to take over the production of Monty Python's Life of Brian, and subsequently became involved in other projects by the group's members. The Pythons' influence was still apparent in British comedy films of the 1980s, the most notable examples being Terry Gilliam's fantasy films Time Bandits (1981) and Brazil (1985), and John Cleese's hit A Fish Called Wanda (1988).

With the involvement of Channel 4 in film production a number of new talents were developed in Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette) and Mike Newell (Dance with a Stranger), while John Boorman, who had been working in the US, was encouraged back to the UK to make Hope and Glory (1987). Stephen Woolley's company Palace Pictures also enjoyed some notable successes, including Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves (1984) and Mona Lisa (1986), before collapsing amid a series of unsuccessful films. Amongst the other notable British films of the decade were Lewis Gilbert's Educating Rita (1983), Bill Forsyth's Gregory's Girl (1981) and Peter Yates' The Dresser (1983).

Following the final winding up of the Rank Organisation, a series of company consolidations in British cinema distribution meant that it became ever harder for British productions. Another blow was the elimination of the Eady tax concession by the Conservative Government in 1984. The concession had made it possible for a foreign film company to write off a large amount of its production costs by filming in the UK — this was what attracted a succession of blockbuster productions to British studios in the 1970s.

1990 to 2000

With Eady gone many studios closed or focused on television work, film production in the UK hit one of its all-time lows in 1989 (see 1989 in film). While cinema audiences were climbing in the UK in the early 1990s, few British films were enjoying significant commercial success, even in the home market. Among the more notable exceptions were the Merchant Ivory productions Howards End (1992) and The Remains of the Day (1993), Richard Attenborough's Chaplin (1992) and Shadowlands (1993) and Neil Jordan's acclaimed thriller The Crying Game (1992). The latter was generally ignored on its initial release in the UK, but was a considerable success in the United States, where it was picked up by the distributor Miramax. The same company also enjoyed some success releasing the BBC period drama Enchanted April (1992). Kenneth Branagh to The Madness of King George (1994) proved there was still a market for the traditional British costume drama, and a large number of other period films followed, including Sense and Sensibility (1995), Restoration (1995), Emma (1996), Mrs. Brown (1997), The Wings of the Dove (1997), Basil (1998), Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Topsy-Turvy (1999). Several of these were funded by Miramax Films, who also took over Anthony Minghella's The English Patient (1996) when the production ran into difficulties during filming. Although technically an American production, the success of this film, including its 9 Academy Award wins would bring further prestige to British film-makers.

The surprise success of the Richard Curtis-scripted comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), which grossed $244 million worldwide and introduced Hugh Grant to global fame, led to renewed interest and investment in British films, and set a pattern for British-set romantic comedies, including Sliding Doors (1998) and Notting Hill (1999). Working Title Films, the company behind many of these films, quickly became one of the most successful British production companies of recent years, with other box office hits including Bean (1997), Elizabeth (1998) and Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001).

The new appetite for British comedy films lead to the popular comedies Brassed Off (1996), Shooting Fish (1997) and The Full Monty (1997). The latter film unexpectedly became a runaway success and broke British box office records. Produced for under $4 m and grossing $257 m internationally, studios were encouraged to start smaller subsidiaries dedicated to looking for other low budget productions capable of producing similar returns.

With the introduction of public funding for British films through the new National Lottery something of a production boom occurred in the late 1990s, but only a few of these films found significant commercial success, and many went unreleased. These included several gangster films attempting to imitate Guy Ritchie's black comedies Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000).

After a six year hiatus for legal reasons the James Bond films returned to production with the 17th Bond film, GoldenEye. With their traditional home Pinewood Studios fully booked, a new studio was created for the film in a former Rolls-Royce aero-engine factory at Leavesden in Hertfordshire.

American productions also began to return to British studios in the mid-1990s, including Interview with the Vampire (1994), Mission: Impossible (1996), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) and The Mummy (1999), as well as the French production The Fifth Element (1997), at the time claimed to be the most expensive film made in the UK.

Mike Leigh emerged as a significant figure in British cinema in the 1990s with a series of films financed by Channel 4 about working and middle class life in modern England, including Life Is Sweet (1991), Naked (1993) and his biggest hit Secrets & Lies, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

Other new talents to emerge during the decade included the writer-director-producer team of John Hodge, Danny Boyle and Andrew Macdonald responsible for Shallow Grave (1994) and Trainspotting (1996). The latter film generated interested in other "regional" productions, including the Scottish films Ratcatcher and Young Adam.

2000 to 2010

The first decade of the 21st century was a relatively successful one for the British film industry. Many British films found a wide international audience due to funding from BBC Films, Film 4 and the UK Film Council, and some independent production companies, such as Working Title, secured financing and distribution deals with major American studios. Working Title scored three major international successes, all starring Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, with the romantic comedies Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), which grossed $254 million worldwide; the sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which earned $228 million; and Richard Curtis's directorial debut Love Actually (2003), which grossed $239 million. Most successful of all, Phyllida Lloyd's Mamma Mia! (2008) which grossed $601 million.

The new decade saw a major new film series in the US-backed but British made Harry Potter films, beginning with Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 2001. David Heyman's company Heyday Films has produced seven sequels, with the final title released in two parts – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 in 2010 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 in 2011. All were filmed at Leavesden Studios in England.

Aardman Animations' Nick Park, the creator of Wallace and Gromit and the Creature Comforts series, produced his first feature length film, Chicken Run in 2000. Co-directed with Peter Lord, the film was a major success worldwide and one of the most successful British films of its year. Park's follow up,Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was another worldwide hit, The film grossed $56 million at the US box office and £32 million in the UK. It also won the 2005 Academy Award for best animated feature.

However it was usually through domestically funded features throughout the decade that British directors and films won awards at the top international film festivals. In 2003, Michael Winterbottom won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for In This World. In 2004, Mike Leigh directed Vera Drake, an account of a housewife who leads a double life as an abortionist in 1950s London. The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. In 2006 Stephen Frears directed The Queen based on the events surrounding the death of Princess Diana which won the Best Actress prize at the Venice Film Festival and Academy Awards and the BAFTA for Best Film. In 2006, Ken Loach won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival with his account of the struggle for Irish Independence in The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Joe Wright's adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel Atonement was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Film and won the Golden Globe and BAFTA for Best Film. Slumdog Millionaire - an Indian story that was filmed entirely in Mumbai with a mostly Indian cast, though with a British director (Danny Boyle), producer (Christian Colson), screenwriter (Simon Beaufoy) and star (Dev Patel) and the film was all-British financed via Film4 and Celador. It has received worldwide critical acclaim. It has won four Golden Globes, seven BAFTA Awards and eight Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Film. The King's Speech, which tells the story of King George VI's attempts to overcome his speech impediment, was directed by Tom Hooper and filmed entirely in London. It received four Academy Awards (including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay) in 2011.

Woody Allen became a convert to British filmmaking, choosing to shoot his 2005 film Match Point entirely in London, with a largely British cast and financing from BBC Films. He followed this with three more films shot in London. Other foreign directors choosing to shoot British films in Britain included Alfonso Cuarón with Children of Men (2006) and Jane Campion with Bright Star (2009). The decade also saw English actor Daniel Craig became the new James Bond with Casino Royale, the 21st entry in the official Eon Productions series.

Despite increasing competition from film studios in Australia and Eastern Europe (especially the Czech Republic), British studios such as Pinewood, Shepperton and Leavesden remained successful in hosting major foreign productions, including Finding Neverland, V for Vendetta, Closer, Batman Begins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, United 93, The Phantom of the Opera, The Golden Compass, Sweeney Todd, The Wolf Man, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Nine, Robin Hood, X-Men: First Class, Hugo Cabret and War Horse.

In November 2010, Warner Bros. completed the acquisition of Leavesden Film Studios, becoming the first Hollywood studio since the 1940s to have a permanent base in the UK, and announced plans to invest £100 million in the site.[26][27]

2010 to present

In April 2011, The Peel Group acquired a controlling 71% interest in The Pinewood Studios Group (the owner of Pinewood Studios and Shepperton Studios) for £96 million.[28][29]

Notable directors working in Britain today include: Shane Meadows, Paul Greengrass, Christopher Nolan, Edgar Wright, Andrea Arnold and Stephen Daldry, whose debut film Billy Elliot (2000) became one of the most acclaimed and enduringly popular British films of its year.

Well-known currently active British actors and actresses include: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ian McKellen, Clive Owen, Jude Law, Terence Stamp, Judi Dench, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave, Bob Hoskins, James McAvoy, Kate Beckinsale, Rachel Weisz, Kate Winslet, Andy Serkis, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Lee, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Caine, Rupert Everett,Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes,Orlando Bloom, Tilda Swinton, Thandie Newton, Daniel Day-Lewis, Christian Bale, Jason Statham, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Hugh Laurie, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Kingsley, Alan Rickman, Emily Blunt, Mark Strong, Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Ray Winstone, Jeremy Irons, Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Helen Mirren, Paul Bettany, Ewan McGregor, Tim Roth, Julie Andrews, Patrick Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Rowan Atkinson, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith and Joely Richardson.

The British film industry and Hollywood

Kate Winslet, who has starred in a number of Hollywood films including 1997's Titanic.

Many Hollywood films with a British dimension (based on British people, stories or events) have had enormous worldwide commercial success. Six of the top seven highest-grossing films worldwide of all time have some British historical, cultural or creative dimensions: Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Harry Potter movies. The second culturally American film on the list, Star Wars at number 9, was filmed principally in the UK. Adding four more Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films, plus three about a Scottish ogre in British fairy tale setting (Shrek), and about two-thirds of the top twenty most commercial films, with combined cinema revenues of about $13 billion, had a substantial British dimension.[30]

British influence can also be seen with the 'English Cycle' of Disney animated films, which include Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, The Rescuers and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.[31]

The British film industry has a complex attitude to Hollywood. It has been argued that the size of the domestic British cinema market makes it impossible for the British film industry to successfully produce Hollywood-style blockbusters over a sustained period without U.S. involvement.[32] Hollywood also provides work to British directors, actors, writers, production staff and studios, enables British history and stories to be made as films, and opens up the U.S. and world markets to a limited participation by some in the British film industry. On the other hand, the loss of control and profits, and the market requirements of the US distributors, are often seen to endanger and distort British film culture.[citation needed]

Art cinema

Although it had been funding British experimental films as early as 1952, the British Film Institute's foundation of a production board in 1964—and a substantial increase in public funding from 1971 onwards—enabled it to become a dominant force in developing British art cinema in the 1970s and 80s: from the first of Bill Douglas's Trilogy My Childhood (1972), and of Terence Davies' Trilogy Childhood (1978), via Peter Greenaway's earliest films (including the surprising commercial success of The Draughtsman's Contract (1982)) and Derek Jarman's championing of the New Queer Cinema. The first full-length feature produced under the BFI's new scheme was Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo's Winstanley (1975), while others included Moon Over the Alley (1975), Requiem for a Village (1975), the openly avant-garde Central Bazaar (1973), Pressure (1975) and A Private Enterprise (1974) -- the last two being, respectively, the first British Black and Asian features.

The release of Derek Jarman's Jubilee (1978) marked the beginning of a successful period of UK art cinema, continuing into the 1980s with film-makers like Sally Potter. Unlike the previous generation of British film makers who had broken into directing and production after careers in the theatre or on television the Art Cinema Directors were mostly the products of Art Schools. Many of these film-makers were championed in their early career by the London Film Makers Cooperative and their work was the subject of detailed theoretical analysis in the journal Screen Education. Peter Greenaway was an early pioneer of the use of computer generated imagery blended with filmed footage and was also one of the first directors to film entirely on high definition video for a cinema release.

With the launch of Channel 4 and its Film on Four commissioning strand Art Cinema was promoted to a wider audience. However the Channel had a sharp change in its commissioning policy in the early nineties and the likes of Jarman and Greenaway were forced to seek European co-production financing. Ken Russell and Nicolas Roeg were two other directors whose highly personal visual styles and narrative themes might class them as 'Art Cinema'. They also struggled to finance their productions during the 1990s.

The spread of music videos now means there is a steady demand for emerging talent without the requirements of seeking feature film funding. Julien Temple and John Maybury are two examples of this. Also the widespread acceptance of video art as a form has made it possible for British artists such as Sam Taylor-Wood and Isaac Julien to make film works outside of the demands of cinema exhibition.

Film technology

In the 1970s and 1980s, British studios established a reputation for great special effects in films such as Superman, Alien, and Batman. Some of this reputation was founded on the core of talent brought together for the filming of A Space Odyssey who subsequently worked together on series and feature films for Gerry Anderson. Thanks to the Bristol-based Aardman Animations the UK is still recognised as a world leader in the use of stopmotion animation.

British special effects technicians and production designers are known for creating visual effects at a far lower cost than their counterparts in the US, as seen in Time Bandits (1981) and Brazil (1985). This reputation has continued through the 1990s and into the 21st century with films such as the James Bond series, Gladiator and Harry Potter.

From the 1990s to the present day, there has been a progressive movement from traditional film opticals to an integrated digital film environment, with special effects, cutting, colour grading, and other post-production tasks all sharing the same all-digital infrastructure. The availability of high-speed Internet Protocol networks has made the British film industry capable of working closely with U.S. studios as part of globally distributed productions. As of 2005, this trend is expected to continue with moves towards (currently experimental) digital distribution and projection as mainstream technologies.

The British film This is Not a Love Song (2003) was the first to be streamed live on the Internet at the same time as its cinema premiere.

Ethnic minority and culture film

Until the 1980s Black British and Asian British culture was significantly under-represented in mainstream British cinema, as they were in many areas of British life. Pioneers such as Horace Ové had been working in 1970s (Pressure, 1975, funded by the British Film Institute), but the 1980s saw a wave of new talent, with films like Babylon (1980), Burning an Illusion (1981), Majdhar (1985) and Ping Pong (1986 - one of the first films about Britain's Chinese community). Many of these films were assisted by the newly formed Channel 4, which had an official remit to provide for "minority audiences." Commercial success was first achieved with My Beautiful Laundrette (1985). Dealing with racial and gay issues, it started the career of its writer Hanif Kureishi. Mainstream British cinema also reflected a change in attitudes, with Heat and Dust (1982), Gandhi (1982) and Cry Freedom (1987), although these did not directly address the experiences of minorities in Britain.

The turn of the century saw a more commercial Asian British cinema develop, starting with East is East (1999) and continuing with Bend It Like Beckham (2002). Other notable British Asian films from this period include My Son the Fanatic (1997), Ae Fond Kiss... (2004), Mischief Night (2006), Yasmin (2004) and Four Lions (2010). Some argue it has brought more flexible attitudes towards casting Black and Asian British actors, with Robbie Gee and Naomie Harris take leading roles in Underworld and 28 Days Later respectively. The year 2005 saw the emergence of The British Urban Film Festival, a timely addition to the film festival calendar which recognised the influence of Kidulthood on UK audiences and which consequently began to showcase a growing profile of films in a genre which previously was not otherwise regularly seen in the capital’s cinemas. Then in 2005 Kidulthood, a film centring on inner-city London youth had a limited release. This was successfully followed up with a sequel Adulthood (2008) that was written and directed by actor Noel Clarke. Several other films dealing with inner city issues and Black Britons were released in the 2000s such as Bullet Boy (2004), Life and Lyrics (2006) and Rollin' With the Nines (2009).

On 24 September 2008, Film London, the capital’s film and media agency launched The New Black, a two year funding and training programme that will expand opportunities for theatrical exhibition of Black film in London. At the event Adrian Wootton, Film London’s Chief Executive, Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney & Stoke Newington and Kanya King MBE, founder of MOBO revealed details of the package. Fifteen of the UK’s leaders of black film exhibition came together from Wales, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Kent, Essex, and the capital to the Film London offices to attend The New Black Training Programme. This led to the forming of The New Black: UK Black Film Distribution & Exhibition Network in Spring 2009.


The annual British Academy Film Awards, hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, are the British equivalent of the Oscars.[21] At the 1993 British Academy Awards (BAFTA) the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film was introduced. The BAFTAs had included a Best British Film category since 1948, although the idea was dropped in the 1960s. Since 1993 the winners have been:


Pre–World War II

  • Low, Rachel. 1985. Film Making in 1930s Britain. London: George, Allen and Unwin
  • Rotha, Paul. 1973. Documentary diary; an informal history of the British documentary film, 1928-1939, New York: Hill and Wang
  • Swann, Paul. 2003. The British Documentary Film Movement, 1926-1946. Cambridge University Press

World War II

  • Aldgate, Anthony and Richards, Jeffrey 2nd Edition. 1994. Britain Can Take it: British Cinema in the Second World War. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
  • Barr, Charles; Ed. 1986. All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema. London: British Film Institute
  • Murphy, Robert. 2000. British Cinema and the Second World War. London: Continuum


  • Friedman, Lester; Ed. 1992. British Cinema and Thatcherism. London: UCL Press
  • Geraghty, Christine. 2000. British Cinema in the Fifties: Gender Genre and the New Look. London Routledge
  • Gillett, Philip. 2003. The British Working Class in Postwar Film. Manchester: Manchester University Press
  • Murphy, Robert; Ed. 1996. Sixties British Cinema. London: BFI
  • Shaw, Tony. 2001. British Cinema and the Cold War. London: I.B. Tauris


  • Brown, Geoff. 2000. Something for Everyone: British film Culture in the 1990s.
  • Brunsdon, Charlotte. 2000. Not Having It All: Women and Film in the 1990s.
  • Murphy, Robert; Ed. 2000. British Cinema of the 90s. London: BFI

Cinema and government

  • Dickinson, Margaret and Street, Sarah. 1985. Cinema and the State: The Film industry and the British Government, 1927-84. London: BFI
  • Miller, Toby. 2000. The Film Industry and the Government: Endless Mr Beans and Mr Bonds?
  • Moran, Albert; Ed. 1996. Film Policy: International, National and Regional Perspectives. London: Routledge: ISBN 0-415-09791-6


  • Aldgate, Anthony and Richards Jeffrey. 2002. Best of British: Cinema and Society from 1930 to the Present. London: I.B. Tauris
  • Babington, Bruce; Ed. 2001.British Stars and Stardom. Manchester: Manchester University Press
  • Chibnall, Steve and Murphy, Robert; Eds. 1999. British Crime Cinema. London: Routledge
  • Cook, Pam. 1996. Fashioning the Nation: Costume and Identity in British Cinema. London BFI
  • Curran, James and Porter, Vincent; Eds. 1983. British Cinema History. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • Durgnat, Raymond. 1970. A Mirror for England: British Movies from Austerity to Affluence. London: Faber. ISBN 0-571-09503-8
  • Harper, Sue. 2000. Women in British Cinema: Mad Bad and Dangerous to Know. London: Continuum
  • Higson, Andrew. 1995. Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Higson, Andrew. 2003. English Heritage, English Cinema. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Hill, John. 1986. Sex, Class and Realism. London: BFI
  • Landy, Marcia. 1991. British Genres: Cinema and Society, 1930-1960. Princeton University Press
  • Lay, Samantha. 2002. British Social Realism. London: Wallflower
  • Mc Farlane, Brian. The Encyclopedia of British Film. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-77301-9
  • Monk, Claire and Sargeant, Amy. 2002. British Historical Cinema. London Routledge
  • Murphy, Robert; Ed. 2001. British Cinema Book 2nd Edition. London: BFI
  • Perry, George. 1988. The Great British Picture Show. Little Brown, 1988.
  • Street, Sarah. 1997. British National Cinema. London: Routledge.
  • Tasker, Yvonne; Ed. 2002. Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers: Routledge: London: ISBN 0-415-18974-8

See also


  1. ^ "The Directors' Top Ten Directors". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2 November 2010. 
  2. ^ "Chaplin, Charles (1889-1977)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 25 January 2011. 
  3. ^ "Powell, Michael (1905-1990)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 25 January 2011. 
  4. ^ "Reed, Carol (1906-1976)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 25 January 2011. 
  5. ^ "Scott, Sir Ridley (1937-)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 25 January 2011. 
  6. ^ "Andrews, Julie (1935-)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  7. ^ "Burton, Richard (1925-1984)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  8. ^ "Caine, Michael (1933-)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  9. ^ "Chaplin, Charles (1889-1977)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  10. ^ "Connery, Sean (1930-)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  11. ^ "Leigh, Vivien (1913-1967)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  12. ^ "Niven, David (1910-1983)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  13. ^ "Olivier, Laurence (1907-1989)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  14. ^ "Sellers, Peter (1925-1980)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  15. ^ "Winslet, Kate (1975-)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  16. ^ "Harry Potter becomes highest-grossing film franchise". London: The Guardian. 11 September 2007. Retrieved 2 November 2010. 
  17. ^ "History of Ealing Studios". Ealing Studios. Retrieved 5 June 2010. 
  18. ^ Barry Ronge's Classic DVD : Alice in Wonderland, The Times'.' Retrieved 20 August 2010.
  19. ^ a b "UK film - the vital statistics". UK Film Council. Retrieved 22 October 2010. 
  20. ^ British Film Institute | The BFI 100
  21. ^ a b "Baftas fuel Oscars race". BBC News. 26 February 2001. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  22. ^ "BFI Screenonline: UK Feature Films Produced 1912-2003". Retrieved 2008-06-30. 
  23. ^ "Louis Le Prince". Local Heroes. BBC Education. 1999-11-28. Archived from the original on 1999-11-28. Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  24. ^ Howells, Richard (Summer 2006). "Louis Le Prince: the body of evidence". Screen (Oxford Journals) 47 (2): 179–200. doi:10.1093/screen/hjl015. ISSN 0036-9543. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  25. ^ Eforgan, E. (2010) Leslie Howard: The Lost Actor. London: Vallentine Mitchell; chapter 3. ISBN 978-0-85303-971-6
  26. ^ "Warner Bros buys Harry Potter studios in £100m boost for UK films". The Guardian. 9 November 2010. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  27. ^ "Warner to purchase and invest £100 million in film studio". Reuters. 8 November 2010. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  28. ^ "Pinewood Shepperton back £96m takeover offer". The Independent. 27 April 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  29. ^ "Pinewood Shepperton backs higher Peel Group bid over interest from billionaire businessman Mohammed Fayed". The Telegraph. 27 April 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  30. ^ "All time Box Office Worldwide Grosses." Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
  31. ^ Barry Ronge's Classic DVD : Alice in Wonderland, The Times, It was made under the personal supervision of Walt Disney, and he took special care when animating British fantasy. He called them his "English Cycle".
  32. ^ "Funding the UK film industry." BBC News website, Thursday, 20 September 2001. Retrieved 25 July 2008.

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