British Cinema History

Ismail Merchant





Divergent 90’s

Film production in Britain hit one of its all-time lows in 1989. While cinema audiences were climbing in the UK in the early 1990s, few British films were enjoying significant commercial success, even in the home market. Among the more notable exceptions were the Merchant Ivory productions Howards End (1992) and The Remains of the Day (1993), Richard Attenborough's Chaplin (1992) and Shadowlands (1993) and Neil Jordan's acclaimed thriller The Crying Game (1992).

The surprise success of the Richard Curtis-scripted comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), especially in the United States, lead to renewed interest and investment in British films, and set a pattern for British-set romantic comedies, including Sliding Doors (1998), Notting Hill (1999) and the Bridget Jones films. Several of these were also written by Curtis, who went on to make his directorial debut with Love Actually in 2003. Working Title Films, the company behind many of these films, quickly became one of the most successful British production companies, with other box office hits including Bean (1997), Elizabeth (1998) and Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001).

Note should also be made of Channel 4’s own production company ‘Film on four’ which soon became ‘FilmFour’ turning out some classic cinema such as ‘Trainspotting’, ‘Brassed Off’ and ‘Lock Stock and Two smoking barrels’. By July 2002 Channel 4 had regained power over its subsidiary and decided to return to commercial TV. With the introduction of public funding for British films through the new National Lottery something of a production boom occurred in the late 1990s, but only a few of these films found significant commercial success, and many went unreleased

There was no shortage of acting talent around at this time with actors like Ewan McGregor and Ralph Fiennes truly cutting their teeth. Directors to like Sam Mendes and Anthony Minghella began to come to the fore.

Damian Lewis




Ioan Gruffudd


21st Century

So what does the first decade of the 21st century hold for truly British Cinema – I would have to speculate rather depressingly. In terms of actors and actresses there are plenty still begin discovered and Jude Law, Clive Owen, Keira Knightly Christian Bale, Ioan Gruffudd and Damian Lewis carry the candle. In terms of quilt British film making Billy Elliott and Bend it like Beckham are two that would make it onto my short list.

The government needs to be serious about funding and plough a great deal more into the film industry and establish a quality British production company.

The turn of the new century also saw a revival of sorts of the British horror film, with The Hole, 28 Days Later, Dog Soldiers and the comedy Shaun of the Dead being among the more successful examples.

Clive Owen

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