Image: UK Production, Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terence Davies, 1988)
A recent thread on the MUBI discussion board regarding British cinema has reminded me of the often-regurgitated quote from François Truffaut, who once remarked: “The British cinema is boring, and reflects a submissive way of life, where enthusiasm, zeal and impetus are quickly rooted out. The film is a born loser just for being English.” Of course, this is the same Truffaut who later praised the early films of Bill Douglas, but nonetheless; the discussion has once again illustrated the tendency amongst certain critics and viewers to denigrate British cinema for being “not quite Hollywood/not quite European”; the implication being that our attempts at successful blockbusters aren’t as snappy as those from the US, just as our more creative endeavours lack the supposed authenticity of works from other parts of the globe.
It is clear that many viewers still think of “British Cinema” – or, however you choose to define it – as alternating between clichéd “social-realism”, gangster movies or literary adaptations; in other words, a cinema free of invention, imagination or thought. This, of course, is complete rubbish, and shows a total ignorance of a cinema that has remained progressive and multifaceted, even when struggling against the continual dominance of a Hollywood film culture, and a complete lack of support from the former New Labour government and television programmers in general.
The following list of films, covering roughly the last the last 45 years (and a general cross-section between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – with a couple of notable co-productions thrown in) should illustrate that “British cinema” is as creative, challenging and thought-provoking as any other cinema from anywhere else in the world.
Image: UK Production, The Bed-Sitting Room (Richard Lester, 1969)
Image: UK Production, The Other Side of the Underneath (Jane Arden, 1972)
Image: UK Production, Winstanley (Kevin Brownlow & Andrew Mollo, 1975)
Image: UK Production, Central Bazaar (Stephen Dwoskin, 1976)
Image: UK/West German Co-Production, Radio On (Christopher Petit, 1979)
Image: UK Production, Anti-Clock (Jane Arden & Jack Bond, 1980)
Image: UK Production, The Gold Diggers (Sally Potter, 1983)
Image: UK Production, Comrades (Bill Douglas, 1986)
Image: UK/Belgian Co-Production, Anchoress (Chris Newby, 1993)
Image: UK Production, Blue (Derek Jarman, 1993)
Image: UK Production, Code 46 (Michael Winterbottom, 2003)
Image: UK Production, Black Sun (Gary Tarn, 2005)
Image: UK/Danish Co-Production, Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)
Missing from the database:
Akenfield (Peter Hall, 1974)
On the Black Hill (Andrew Grieve, 1987)
Melancholia (Andi Engel, 1989)