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The Great British Film Farce

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Why is it that all this Union Jack-waving during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee doesn't mean squat at the British cinema box office?

The British Film Institute reported on 31 January that the market share in 2011 for all British films at the UK box office, including both independents and those made in the UK but financed abroad, reached 36.2%, up from 24% in 2010. Although a positive development for the British film industry, the numbers were skewed by big Hollywood-distributed titles such as Hugo, The King's Speech, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

Can that legitimately be construed as British dominance in filmmaking at large? Any chance some of the current nationalistic pride - spurred by the monarch's anniversary and sure to be continued when the Olympics get underway - will result in the populace wanting to pay to see truly independent Brit films?

Visit Leicester Square - the nation's nerve centre of film-going activity, and it's always Hollywood blockbuster output that's getting screened there as well as at the UK's multiplexes. Surely, there's no shortage of independent British films being made. The only problem is that these titles have hardly any way of being seen, if you take away YouTube or online indie outlets.

Despite the Internet being the great equaliser (e.g., cute video goes viral), mainstream media entree is nearly impossible unless you buy your way in. Filmmakers spend their every last pound on editing, colour correction, music licensing, etc.

"It's become almost accepted that a [British] film won't necessarily make money," admits Mike Gould, who two years ago co-founded with Julian Bushell a London-based organisation called 'Film Means Business' to provide a networking forum for fellow filmmakers.

Gould runs in Wimbledon what's regarded as a 'boutique' cinema, the Wimbledon Film Club. "We show a lot of foreign films, your higher brow, cultural films. It seems to me that there's a big market in smaller cinemas - what they call 'screening venues'. It can be anything - a pub with a screen in it, a posh little boutique cinema. They are very much on the increase around Britain."

On this US side of the Atlantic, the only non-DVD places pretty much to see British films, such as recent arrivals as Hysteria and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, are 'art house' movie theaters - the American equivalents of the boutique cinemas.

I recently met a bunch of British expat actors, who have breakfast every Tuesday under the auspices of 'Brits in LA' at a swanky eatery called Ceconni's in West Hollywood. The conversation turned to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which was then going to be released in a few weeks. One of the actors had seen a preview screening and grudgingly admitted that it was worth seeing, with more than a tinge of professional jealousy.

"You know, it has an all-star cast led by Dame Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy - the same people that get cast in all the British films these days. What about us lot?"

Indeed, what about them lot - who pour their life savings into labours of loves that for the most part go unseen.

Still, any UK film that gets movie-theatre attention for more than a week on either the US or UK side of the Atlantic (or the other, for that matter) deserves resounding applause, especially one that caters to the non-mainstream, movie-going audience that doesn't involve gangsters, action-adventure, comic book characters, science fiction, etc.

You know, more real life on the big screen, please.

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