The heyday of both British and American cinema ran from immediately after WW1 to a few years after WW2 – when TV replaced the film programmes.
Despite this, tradition resulted in film programmes continuing until the turn of the Eighties – at which point they were replaced by “event movies” running mostly at the new multiplexes.
And in that heyday, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere had large enough audiences to support their home-grown products. But once TV took over, the landscape changed.
By the Sixties, Britain had become heavily dependent on American financial input – and when that faded in the Seventies, the British film industry found itself on its own.
However, this is not to say that the British film industry DIED at that time. It merely began to adapt.
Its technicians worked CHEAP, so Britain’s talent turned to making the best AMERICAN movies – in Britain. Without them, George Lucas would be forgotten today.
But in terms of making BRITISH films, the industry stalled.
Gone were the big studios, with their in-house facilities, churning out new films every week. Now, as in Hollywood, productions were all ONE-OFFS – meaning they became both expensive and time-consuming to set up.
Nevertheless, after struggling through the Eighties – for British films, the tide began to turn.
Hollywood had gone through a mini-Golden Age during the late Nineties and early Noughties (?) – but then their fare had become overladen with big-budget SFX-laden bubble-gum movies.
While, thanks largely to financial input from Britain’s National Lottery (appropriately) the British film industry went from strength to strength.
The fact is, while the NUMBER of good British films may have lessened dramatically over the years – their quality has NOT.
During the last decade, Britain has turned out films Hollywood would have given its right NUT to have made.
An early example was Steve Coogan’s “The Parole Officer”. The title was misguidedly changed from “The Probation Officer” for America’s benefit (although it could easily have been retained for the British release) yet ironically, it appears to have done little business there.
And since it only took five million pounds in the home market, it probably lost a packet (the budget is unknown).
Indeed “The Boat That Rocked” (US title: “Pirate Radio”) cost around fifty million bucks to make – and only grossed thirty-six. Therefore, since the cinemas keep half of the gross, this means it only netted eighteen. OUCH!
However, despite these two sad stories, today’s British film industry is NOT a money-pit.
“The Boat That Rocked” cost FAR more to make than it should have done.
While “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” was made on location, starred some of Britain’s best actors – yet it only cost TEN million bucks to make and netted over SIXTY.
Furthermore, only about a third of that came from America.
The thing is, while Americans (and some Brits) think the US box office is the only one that matters – it is not uncommon for films that are ABOUT SOMETHING to gross a packet in what they call the “foreign” market.
Just ask Rowan Atkinson.
If his fortune had relied on the “domestic” (US) market, instead of being able to smash up half-million-pound cars at the weekend – he would be lucky to be able to afford Mr Bean’s MINI.
His two Bean movies and two Johnny English movies KILLED at the World box office – but barely stirred that “domestic” market.
The first Bean cost eighteen million dollars to make – netted twenty-three in the US (the only one of his films to show a profit there – albeit a small one) – and over a HUNDRED World-wide.
The second cost twenty-five – netted a pathetic fourteen Stateside – but again, glommed over a HUNDRED elsewhere.
While the first Johnny English outing cost nearly forty million to make (its production values were akin to a Bond movie) and netted twenty in the US – but another SIXTY World-wide.
And its sequel cost forty-five big ones – netted eighty World-wide – of which a miserable FOUR came from America.
Simon Pegg has done well at the box office too.
His first major film, “Shaun Of The Dead” netted only fifteen million bucks, World-wide – about half from the US – although its production costs (again, unknown) were probably modest.
But “Hot Fuzz” – with a budget of a mere eight million bucks – netted over FORTY million. However, yet again, only twelve of that came from America (not surprising, as it took the piss out of THEIR action movies).
Then came “Paul”. Being shot in the States and requiring fifteen million bucks worth of special effects to realise its titular character, its budget hit the forty million mark.
And its swipes at creationists did little to help its US box office – it only netted eighteen million there.
But luckily the rest-of-the-World was not so tight-arsed and gave it a further thirty, pushing it comfortably into the black.
His latest project is “The World’s End” – a sci-fi adventure set in Welwyn Garden City. It is set for release this summer.
Another recent British film with a pub/sci-fi theme was “FAQ About Time Travel” – about whose figures nothing is known. But it was VERY good and starred Chris O’Dowd, who also shone in “The Boat That Rocked”.
And that film – plus “Shaun Of The Dead”, “Hot Fuzz” AND “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” featured “newcomer” Bill Nighy. 63-year-old Bill has been plugging away in The Business for DECADES – of which this last has finally paid off for him.
Another British oldster is Sir Michael Caine – now eighty years old and still doing it. Four years ago, he appeared in yet another excellent British film – “Harry Brown”. At 76, one could have forgiven him for hanging up his hat after making one of the best films of his career – but he has since done EIGHT more films – and a TV series. The man is unstoppable.
“Harry Brown” was a gritty British film that cost just seven million bucks to make. But while it did well in Britain, netting five million – it was not promoted elsewhere, so lost money overall.
On the other hand, NO Bond film has EVER lost money. Indeed it is this propensity that has kept them going for half a century now – apart from the occasional gap, during which court cases raged over who OWNED the cash-cow franchise.
Said franchise was almost lost to America in 1970 – but since “Diamonds Are Forever”, the series has remained firmly BRITISH.
However, the success of 007 should not be allowed to smother the often STELLAR work being done by the REST of the British film industry.
With Hollywood on the ropes – at least in terms of QUALITY output…
And with a whole generation of Baby-Boomers – who DEMAND quality films – now retiring…
Britain could be set to FILL that niche.