British heritage is too long to be muddled with anything foreign. However, when it comes to British cinema, the distinction is hard. British cinema is expected to the realistic, raw and represents the values that are the base of English society but are modern films with foreign cast/crew locations and support are any less British? For instance one of the best British gangster films, Snatch had American actor Brad Pitt as one of the leads.
Another example is 2013 Sci-fi movie Gravity that won the Outstanding British Film award at British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in 2014. One may argue that the film is directed by a Mexican director and has American actors, how it is decided to label it as a British film.
To understand what actually makes a film British we need to know what traditionally British cinema was and what modern rules dictate.
Traditional British Cinema Themes
Movies in England have certain themes that are common to explore life in difficult parts of the country, expose prejudice or discrimination against ordinary people or represent coming of age. For years true British films have tried to comment on the social issues that affect people. For reference, there are many modern classic movies that follow these themes. The 2008 crime/drama movie Adulthood was an elaborative representation of the difficulties that the youth in the UK had to experience on a daily basis. Another British film, Four Lions better capture the prejudice towards the Muslims in British society in the 21st century. Not only the present day problems, but discriminatory events from the history are also commonly referenced in British cinema. For example, the movie ‘This Is England’ deeply explores the behaviour of the English people in 1970s and how prevalent prejudice was among particular groups.
Genre in British Films
The approach towards storytelling in British movies is much more realistic and that is why there are very few British sci-fi or fantasy movies as compared to flicks from other parts of the world. Since the themes are so relatable in the British cinema the films here are mostly confined to particular genres-drama, romance, witty comedy or gritty thriller. In all these genres you will find a British film will have strong storytelling built around the characters and kind of people they are.
Movies like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Four Lions and London to Brighton are all from different genres but still have a relatable, character-centred and dry humour storytelling. The dramas are equally identifiable such as The Young Victoria.
The Modern Take on British Films
Selection of Gravity as the Outstanding British Film at the BAFTA points towards the shift in the paradigm of British cinema and culture.
There are some new rules governing that might be considered as the modern day British cinema. According to BAFTA, it is entirely up to the producers to declare a film as British when they submit it to the charity for consideration. Furthermore, BAFTA states that a British film is considered so if it is an example of “outstanding and original British film-making”.
In the case of Gravity, the movie was entirely filmed in the United Kingdom and all the special effects were also made in Britain. This is one of the reasons why the movie won as it is made by the British people arguably as stated by Nik Powell, “We’re proud that films like Gravity are British and we’re proud to have them made here by British people.”
There is another charity called the British Film Institute that labels a movie as British if it passes their ‘Cultural Test’.
In this test, the charity observes the characters, locations and cast and crew of a movie. If the characters speak English, British locations are used in the movie and cast/crew is British then a film is considered British. In total there are 31 points that are considered and if a movie scores at least 16 points then it passes the Cultural Test.
In the modern film industry, it is neither viable nor very enriching to focus on producing 100% British films as film-makers, directors and actors want to collaborate with the best talent across the globe.