British Cinema History

Dr Stranglelove

The Stagnation of the 70’s

With the film industry in both Britain and the United States entering into recession, American studios cut back on domestic production, and in many cases withdrew from financing British films altogether. Major films were still being made at this time, including Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), Battle of Britain (1969), and David Lean's Ryan's Daughter (1970), but as the decade wore on financing became increasingly hard to come by.
Also in the 70’s, spurred on by his success with Women In Love, Ken Russell challenged the censors wildly with ‘The Music Lovers’ and ‘The Devils’ only just managing to get a certificate. Likewise Roegs ‘Performance’ with James Fox was a shock to the system for many who saw it. But boundaries were gone by now and a couple of years later ‘The Exorcist’ was to hit the screens only to be banned after to many people fainted or were sick in the cinema!

The British horror boom of the 1960s also finally came to an end by the mid-1970s, with the leading producers Hammer and Amicus leaving the genre altogether in the face of competition from America. Films like ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) made Hammer's vampire films seem increasingly tame and outdated, despite attempts to spice up the formula with added nudity and gore.
Stanley Kubrick made Clockwork Orange, just about getting a certificate, Dr Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey. In mainstream terms pure British cinema was diminishing and was to get worse before it got even worse.

Ken Russell








The 80’s decline and re-emergence

The 1980s began with the worst recession the British film industry had ever seen. In 1980 only 31 UK films were made, down 50% on the previous year, and the lowest output since 1914. This decade also started the downward trend in self financing British movies – the Americans began to take over and really never looked back. When movies were made in Britain they were either American financed or had American directors / producers. This was in part because the market potential in Britain is too small to produce a profit return on anything more than the most modestly budgeted production.

However, the 1980s soon saw a renewed optimism, led by companies such as Goldcrest (and producer David Puttnam), Channel 4, Handmade Films and Merchant Ivory Productions. Under producer Puttnam a generation of British directors emerged making popular films with international distribution, including: Bill Forsyth (Local Hero, 1983), Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire, 1981), Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields, 1984), Alan Parker and Ridley Scott. Handmade Films, part owned by George Harrison, had produced a series of modest budget comedies and gritty dramas such as The Long Good Friday (1980) that had proven popular internationally.
Also in this era Sir Richard Attenborough was directing Gandhi (1982) and Lewis Gilbert - Educating Rita (1983). The later half of the decade saw general decline. That said there were still successful British actors and actresses around but the big budget blockbusters were now being populated by mainly Americans.
Following the final winding up of the Rank Organisation, a series of company consolidations in UK cinema distribution meant that it became ever harder for British productions. Another blow was the elimination of the Eady tax concession by the Conservative Government in 1984. The concession had made it possible for a foreign film company to write off a large amount of its production costs by filming in the UK — this was what attracted a succession of blockbuster productions to UK studios in the 1970s. With Eady gone many studios closed or focused on television work.

Lord Puttnam