Films of the United Kingdom

Created on : October 23, 2023 21:39 | Last updated on : January 18, 2024 11:38


Films of the United Kingdom refer to cinematic works produced in the sovereign country comprising England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The UK has a rich and diverse film history, contributing significantly to global cinema. British films often showcase a blend of creativity, innovation, and storytelling prowess, spanning various genres and themes. Iconic filmmakers, actors, and studios have left a lasting imprint on the industry, with the UK being home to renowned film festivals and a vibrant film culture. The country's filmography encompasses classics, contemporary hits, and influential contributions to the world of cinema.


The film industry of the United Kingdom is considerably significant. Although the world film production reached an all-time high in 1936, the "golden age" of British cinema is usually thought to have occurred in the 1940s, during which the  film directors David Lean, Michael Powell, (with Emeric Pressburger) and Carol Reed produced their most critically acclaimed works. Many British film actors have accrued critical success and worldwide recognition, such as Audrey HepburnOlivia de HavillandVivien LeighGlynis JohnsMaggie SmithLaurence OlivierMichael Caine,Sean Connery, Ian MckellenJoan CollinsJudi Dench, Julie Andrews, Daniel Day-Lewis, Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins and Kate Winslet. Some of the British movies with the largest ever box office returns have been made in the United Kingdom, including the third and sixth highest-grossing film franchises (Harry Potter and James Bond).


British Film Industry

Most people would define a ‘British’ film or British motion picture with reference to obvious cultural elements such as: a setting in the UK or a focus on British people abroad; a predominantly British cast; a storyline about some aspect of British life — past, present, or future — or notably by, or based on a work by, a British author. Recent examples include Billy Elliott, about a boy in Northeast England, and Bend it Like Beckham, about a girl from West London, both portraying particular social issues. The nationalities of scriptwriter, producer, director and, perhaps especially, the ‘investment’ seem less obviously significant. However, both artistic and financial considerations serve to complicate this issue.

The identity of the British film industry, particularly as it relates to Hollywood film industry, has often been the subject of debate. Its history has often been affected by attempts to compete with the American film industry. The career of the film producer Alexander Korda was marked by this objective, the Rank Organisation attempted to do so in the 1940s, and Goldcrest in the 1980s. Numerous British film directors, including Alfred HitchcockChristopher Nolan and Ridley Scott, and performers, such as Charlie Chaplin and Cary Grant, have achieved success primarily through their work in the United States.   

In 2009, British movie industry grossed around $2 billion worldwide and achieved a market share of around 7% globally and 17% in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom film industry box-office takings totalled £1.1 billion in 2012, with 172.5 million admissions.

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. The annual BAFTA Awards hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts are the British equivalent of the Academy Awards.

Under present legislation a film certified by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport as qualifying as ‘British’ can benefit from advantageous tax treatment. These incentives were designed to encourage the indigenous film industry of Britain as well as attracting inward investment in the form of overseas productions. Many projects in both categories simply would not have been made, or not made here, without these incentives. The film industry of the United Kingdom is a mixture of commerce and culture, business and art.

The British Council regards a British film as one where the film had a minimum of three of the following six criteria: 1. British producer; 2.British production team; 3.British director; 4.predominantly British cast; 5.a subject matter that informs the British experience; 6.a British identity as defined by the BFI in the release review in sight & sound (or earlier Monthly Film Bulletin). 

History of the British Film Industry

Marking the beginning and end of the Edwardian age, the cinema in this period represented a period of growing prosperity and intense class struggles, as well as increasing mobility and invention. This led to the cinema of the Great Britain becoming ‘the peoples’ form of entertainment.

The 1909 Cinematograph Act, under which cinemas became licensed, created a boom in the building of purpose-built cinemas. Combined with increased investment in brick-and-mortar production, the British cinema business began to evolve. Furthermore, several film companies, such as Pathé and Gaumont, were established as moviegoers flocked to consume the new (and newly accessible) medium.

During this decade, many British cinemas launched the showing of regular?newsreels, a phenomenon which would gather momentum in 1911 with the launch of many competing newsreel suppliers. The headlines would play at the start of every screening informing the British motion picture goer of current affairs. British films were still silent and popular topics included the development of science and nature, with the fiction film we know and love today was evolving at a much slower pace.

Post-war, with construction limitations lifted, ‘super cinemas’ began popping up around the country hosting 2,000+ seats. Many international cinemas of Britain began combining live acts and films, providing live performances as a ‘preshow’ before the movie.

Hollywood become the prominent force in the film world, with British cinema becoming more ‘Americanised,’ leading to fears over a loss of British culture. Despite these concerns, cinema became a much more creative medium.

1940s-50s is coined the ‘Golden Era’ of the British film industry. Tickets sales and movie production peaked in the decade of the Fabulous Forties. The government realised the cinema’s potential for spreading wartime propaganda across British society with propagandist messages threaded, implicitly or explicitly, into the decade’s British feature films.

The 1960s marked yet another period of transition in British cinema industry. Many of the great wartime film studios had collapsed and been replaced by American studios. American corporations began investing in British film studios, keeping the domestic industry afloat. Socially conscious films became popular, with many Northern, working-class anti-heroes dominating the big screen. James Bond was also born in this period, becoming a staple of British cinema.

Many see the 1970s as a period of the British film industry that is best to be forgotten. With funding problems, falling audiences, the increased competition of small screens– not to mention Thatcher’s budget cuts to state funded cinema– the movies were struggling.

However, many personal works thrived in this period, with individual projects gaining remarkable success in the box offices despite their tiny budgets, functioning outside the traditional distribution chain. Notably, many minority groups broke through to the British film making industry with some BAME and LGBTQ+ creatives beginning to see their works on the big screen.

Many of the major studios began pulling out of Britain in the 1980s. Cinema faced harsher competition from video and television. As well as this, the Conservative government scrapped the Eady Levy (1950), a tax on box office receipts, which subsidised film production. As most studios downsized, companies operated on a smaller scale with films conceived on modest budgets. Yet alongside this decrease in cinematic excess, many big-budget epics were still produced.

During this decade, films wished to foster links with their greatest competitor, TV. Cinemas made agreements with channels to lengthen the period between TV and Cinema release. The film music video also became popular, with their aesthetics beginning to inspire cinema. Female film directors also came into their own in this period as well as the start of the golden age of animation. 

As Britain galloped towards the turn of the century, investment in British film production started to rise as new tax incentives allowed American producers to invest in British films. This era marked the rise of the dramatic comedy films and rom coms. British Cinemas tried new means to lure their audiences away from the easy comfort of their TVs. Studios began investing vast amounts in special effects, enticing people into watching films on the big screen. Later in the decade, cinemas began exercising in-cinema experiences, such as 3D glasses, to differentiate them from their competitors.

Many big franchises also took off in this period, perhaps most notable of which being the Harry Potter series. This was also the UK Film council’s final decade of production before its abolishment, crafting many cult classics of Britain.

The UK film industry has a rich and storied history that dates back over a century. From the earliest days of silent films to the thriving, technologically advanced industry of today, the UK has played a major role in the evolution of the British motion picture industry. In the early 20th century, the UK film industry was dominated by the work of filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Alexander Korda. During this time, the British film industry was highly influential, producing some of the most iconic films of the era, including The 39 Steps (1959) and The Thief of Baghdad (1940).

In the 1980s and 1990s, the film industry of the UK began to experience a resurgence, with the rise of independent filmmakers and a new wave of young talent. This was fuelled in part by the success of films such as Trainspotting (1996) and Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), which put the film industry of Great Britain back on the map.

Today, the UK film industry is thriving, with a thriving independent scene, a thriving special effects industry, and a thriving film production industry. With major film studios such as Pinewood and Shepperton, the UK is now a major player in the global film industry, producing and attracting top talent from around the world.

Whether you're a fan of classic films or contemporary blockbusters, the UK film industry has something for everyone. From its rich history to its cutting-edge technology, the film industry of the United Kingdom is an important part of the world's cultural heritage and a major contributor to the global economy.

Recent Scenario of the UK Film Industry

In the 1970s and 1980s, British studios established a reputation for great special effects in films such as Superman (1978), Alien (1979), and Batman (1989). Some of this reputation was founded on the core of talent brought together for the filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) 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 stop-motion animation.

British special effects technicians and film 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 (2000) and the Harry Potter franchise.

The availability of high-speed internet 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.

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