With an industry so frequently considered as ‘lagging behind’ the successes of the mainstream provided by Hollywood, British Cinema seems somewhat subjugated by its dominant overseas counterpart. Furthermore, the artistic ‘otherness’ of a European cinema arguably fills the void in terms of an alternative to the mainstream blockbusters produced by Hollywood and its associates. The role and identity of a British cinema therefore is unclear in many respects.
A key component of the British film industry is certainly its actors – they are the faces that we are to identify with as on-screen representatives of our nation. British actor Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting , The Full Monty ) recently made a plea to cinema chains to support the British film industry by “reserving at least one screen in multiplexes to show UK productions.” Speaking at a BAFTA event in November 2009, Carlyle stated: “I look at all these multiplex cinemas, 15 and 20 screens. They are basically wall-to-wall American products. You will be lucky if you find any British subject in there at all. I don’t see anything wrong in giving our industry a lift up, and reserving just one of these screens for a British product. We make stuff and we bury it. You don’t get to see it and what’s the point in that?”
Higson sees the potential effects of ‘Americanisation’ on a British cultural industry and its audience as most perturbing. In recent years however, it has been suggested that British film is in the midst of a revival. Writing for The Guardian in 2009, Andrew Pulver suggested that we are revisiting a trend of British cinema more aligned to ‘art cinema’, something that has not been prominent since the 1980s: “In the last 12 months we have seen the release of such unabashedly visionary films such as Sleep Furiously, Hunger, Unrelated, Better Things, Soi Cowboy, and Of Time and the City. Soon we will be getting Fish Tank and Berlin Film Festival discovery, Katalin Varga.”
Most crucially, it would seem that the idea of a ‘British national identity’ within cinema is a construct that constantly moves between successful recognition and misconstrued failure. Certainly much of the defining aspects of the identity of British cinema have become dependent on their associations with society. Higson makes a further distinction between the elements that construct a national cinema: “An alternative view is that ‘national identity’ is constructed in and through representation: a nation does not express itself through its culture: it is culture that produces the nation.” This suggestion implies that the true, pressing role of British cinema is to act as an outlet of expression for its nation, but also as a means of exploring the social content and issues of ‘national identity’ that the subsequent films of Britain attempt to represent, define and redefine.
Therefore, if the conventional American productions of Hollywood are to be considered as representative of the escapist fantasy desires of a mainstream cinemagoing audience, and the ‘art-based’ productions of a European cinema characterise the physicality of emotions through often heavily-stylised cinematography and mise-en-scene, then British cinema’s stereotype functions to positively represent strength in its recognition of its own ‘national identity’. Lovell states that:
Laura J. Smith