It’s good to be British right now. The four day Diamond Jubilee weekend has just come to an end with a flypast over Buckingham Palace, and we’ve got the London 2012 Olympics to look forward to (or not dependent on your view). If you don’t want to put the Bucks Fizz away just yet, then fear not. To celebrate everything that makes our film industry great, The Made In Britain season is screening British movies across the UK up to the Olympics.
The remaining films that are screening between the recent bank holiday and the Olympics are:
- Plague of Zombies – Tuesday 12th June
- The Man Who Fell to Earth – Tuesday 19th June
- Hobson’s Choice – Tuesday 26th June
- Quatermass & The Pit – Tuesday 3rd July
The season made us sit back and think: what makes a film quintessentially British? Is it the characters? The plots? The humour? We decided to investigate in further celebration of Britishness. Because our films are worth celebrating:
Gently mocking: Way before Hollywood began mass producing films that parody each and every genre they'd previously invented, the British had been gently poking fun for years. From the Carry On films to Robin Hood: Men in Tights, anything is fair game. Especially if it's British. There's nothing we like to do more than poke fun at ourselves. What better way to do so than in a film? Historical moments, people, genres, society in general - you name it we'll mock it. No one is safe. Possibly the most famous British spoofs are the Monty Python films, which truly are The Holy Grail of mockery. Oh to be back in the days before political correctness ...
Classically trained actors: British actors are doing quite well in Hollywood at the moment for one reason: they are good actors. Many of our most seasoned veterans; Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Ian McKellen, Michael Gambon and Dame Judi Dench are classically trained, having performed in the West End for years. You may even recognise some from their training with the touring Royal Shakespeare Company. British TV and films have been better for their presence. Compare them to the seasoned Hollywood actors and their techniques are vastly different. Think Marilyn Monroe and Lawrence Olivier working on The Prince and the Showgirl. The former being a fan of 'Method' acting and the latter classically trained. No wonder they clashed.
Period-setting: A spot of tea, passive aggressive conversation over supper, wining and dining in our best finery, and scanadalous affairs behind doors. It can only be the British period drama. Often set in stately homes, with upper class characters and those who aspire to be so, the list of period dramas is endless. There's just something about the past that British film makers have been fascinated by for years. Oh and there's lots of tea! Did I mention that? The most recent triumph in British period drama has been The King's Speech, which won multiple Oscars. Past examples include: Pride and Prejudice, The Young Victoria, The Duchess, Gosford Park, Elizabeth I and Dracula (Yes, the Hammer Horror one).
Accents: No matter where the film is set, if it takes place in the past i.e during the middle ages etc, the characters will nearly always speak with the iconically posh English accent that other countries have come to recognise as British. And it is this accent that Hollywood adopt when a British character is introduced. Other regional accents are not wasted in British films though. From the cockney of the iconic comedy Go To Blazes (starring a young Maggie Smith), to the Northern twang of Sheffield in Billy Elliot, British films like to tell the tales of the little people all over the country. We weren't all educated at Eton after all.
Boarding Schools: There is nothing more typically British than a boarding school. Normally centring around all-boys establishments, reminiscent of our beloved Eton, the films often depict their adventures as they survive the experience of living away from home, with little adult supervision. Basically an awful lot of hearty mischief goes down under the nose of the School Master. Boys will be boys, eh? One of the earliest of this genre is The Happiest Days of Your Life. Then the girls got involved with the comedic classic Belles of St Trinian's; a series of films that revolve around a group of naughty school girls who wreak havoc wherever they go. Made even more iconic because the headmistress is played by a man! The updated 2008 remake, St Trinian's starred Rupert Everett. The most popular recent boarding school offering was the decade long Harry Potter series.
Character types: No matter the film, you will often find that the characters will fall into rather similar character types. One of the dominant character types in British film that has stood the test of time, is the upper class stiff upper lip. Nowadays they seem to be more of an additional staple that cannot be got rid of, despite their decreasing relevance in today's society. Even as films move into grittier territory, with characters from every class, the archetypal characters live on. From the cockney with a lot of lip and swagger, to the sneaky Gangster, to the rural farmer, to the underdog; they all adhere to the same stereotypes. For example: the main distinction between the crooks in 1955's The Lady Killers and 2012's Wild Bill, is the clothing and the loot. Every other stereotype is still intact.
Kitchen Sink: While Hollywood were glamorising their movies with the likes of Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe, the 1950s and early 60s saw the beginning of the Kitchen Sink movement in British films. This is where the 'heroes' are young men, usually from the working classes who are perpetually angry about their domestic situations. And the films which are normally set in the industrial North of England depicted their lives in the grimy pubs on the corner, and their lives at home with the wife. They were designed to have a sense of realism. Early versions include 1947's It Always Rains on Sundays and the 1956 gem Look Back in Anger. Modern examples would be 1997's The Full Monty and Kidulthood from 2006.
Absurd Absurdity is hardly an unusual thing for the British. In fact I'd be confident in saying we relish the thought of the obscure and bizarre. So it's no surprise that there is a British catalogue of absurd films. From the cartoon Yellow Submarine (1968) starring The Beatles, to 2004's Shawn of the Dead. Of course being absurd is only one type of humour us Brits use, but it's one of the more favourable simply because anything is fair game. There is a logic to our absurdity though, even if we are the only ones who can see it. A classic example of pure randomness is the Monty Python series. Think about the ending sequence of The Life of Brian; all those men nailed to the crosses as they sing "Always look on the bright side of life. Do do...". Ridiculous? Yes. Possibly offensive? You bet it is. Is it entertaining? Absolutely.