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The 100 Best British Film - What Qualifies As British?

Posted on Friday October 7, 2011, 16:31 by Helen O'Hara in Empire States
The 100 Best British Film - What Qualifies As British?

We've just published our list of the 100 Best British Films of all time, and since I can already sense the nitpickers honing in on it, let's discuss what makes a film British. Is it the cast and crew? Shooting location? Money? Director? Some combination of the above? Or an indefinable sense of Britishness, loosely justified by some vague connection among its makers?

Well, we've gone for some or all of the above. Both Brazil and Blow-Up were directed by people definitely not born in this country (Terry Gilliam, who's American, and Michelangelo Antonioni). And while we can reasonably argue that Gilliam's been here long enough to qualify as an adoptive son, Antonioni has, er, not. What's more, Brazil was clearly a big Hollywood studio-funded picture, with a few American stars (we're talkin' to you, Mr de Niro). Still, we couldn't quite not include it: it feels very British in its view of bureaucracy, just as Blow-Up captures the Swinging Sixties in London perhaps better than any other film (although Performance comes close).

Harry Potter presents an interesting case. It's based on a British series of books, entirely filmed here, with an almost entirely British cast and crew, and it's arguably done more for British cinema than any other film or series of films on the list (yes, even than Bond) thanks to its long-term settlement at Leavesden and sheer scale. An entire generation of British crew has come up through the films and gone off to work elsewhere in the industry, so it seems extremely ungrateful to carp that the money comes from Hollywood, or that the director of the first two films was a Yank (and of course one of the directors featured in our selection is a Mexican). So we've included two of those.

We've included Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, even though it's often called his first American film, and Slumdog Millionaire, even though that was shot in India, and Monsters, although that went on location to Mexico. After all, you wouldn't rule out Zulu just because it shot in South Africa, would you, or Lawrence of Arabia? Still, at least those three have British directors, which generally counts for quite a lot.

Generally, then, it's more impressionistic than strict. A foreign director's fine if it feels British; a foreign shoot is fine if the director's British; and we don't much care where the money comes from (which accounts for the omission of technically British-but-let's-face-it-Irish film In Bruges).

You may very well disagree. If so, feel free to make your arguments below.

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1 twistedmango
Posted on Sunday October 9, 2011, 11:58
So basically any remotely tenuous 'British' connection is good enough to make the list, way to go Empire, what a joke.
The whole list comes across as a 'Well i love this film so how can i make it British so it can go in the list'.

2 rob jones
Posted on Monday October 10, 2011, 08:29
Agreed twistedmango. Agreed.

3 Rgirvan44
Posted on Monday October 10, 2011, 20:59
So is Children of Men British or not?

4 K0rrupt
Posted on Tuesday October 11, 2011, 10:01
It's a hard thing to decide what's British and what's not, especially when films have become so international in scope. There are some films on that list that I wouldn't consider very British at all (Monsters for instance).

However I feel it comes down to two things, firstly whether the spine of the film is British. I'm not overly concerned about where the finance came from but if the main producer is British, the director, screenwriter and the cast as well, (or a at least some of those roles taken by by Brits) I think you can consider it as being British film.

The second would be the source/what's it about. Is it identifiably British? Does it have something to say about some aspect of British culture or does it translate British culture to larger audience (Harry Potter)? If it nails the second one then I think it definitely can be considered a British film.

5 Vikolai
Posted on Tuesday October 11, 2011, 13:36
I had this argument with Odeon Cinemas a little while back. What constitutes a British film? They had a promotion running where you got extra "Premier Club" points for any British film you went to see. I argued that X-Men: First Class, with it's British lead actors, British Director, British writers, and a number of British locations, should be classed a British film, despite being an inherently American film franchise.

They chose not to reply and I was left grumbling to myself for (no doubt) years to come!

6 BurnyMan
Posted on Tuesday October 11, 2011, 22:02
It's an interesting conundrum and one we struggle with here in Godzone (New Zealand) too. The prime example being Lord of the Rings. Can you really define the trilogy as "New Zealand" films. True enough, they have done more (by strides, leaps, bounds and rocket-propelled flight) for the New Zealand film industry than any other homegrown film. Made here, with a New Zealand director and (largely) NZ crew but based on English books, with an international cast and with money from the US. I would argue that, while the films are incredibly important to the history of New Zealand cinema, I wouldn't call them "New Zealand" films, per se. Yet, I also struggle to see them as "British" or "American" films. Perhaps its also the fantasy setting... And then again, what is Tin-Tin? Based on a Belgian comic, filmed/performance-captured in LA and NZ with an American and New Zealand director/producer combo.
Ultimately, it really all comes down to your own opinion. I think it matters less where the money comes from (as, especially with smaller indie films, it can come from numerous countries) and more about what (if anything) it says about the particular country the film is coming from or set. Or, yes, if it "feels" like a particular country.

7 Blue Ryan
Posted on Monday October 17, 2011, 21:36
Loved In Bruges thats why i feel it is the only proper omission that should have been there

8 Boyden
Posted on Saturday October 22, 2011, 11:16
Fair play Helen, but this still doesn't explain the lack of Get Carter from the list. I also feel that In Bruges is a British film, you could argue that Ray and Ken are 'London Irish' characters, and the writer/director is British.

9 Nicky C
Posted on Wednesday November 27, 2013, 17:15
This article does an incredibly good job at highlighting the fact that British filmmakers and British audiences are, respectively speaking, ashamed of and uninterested in British movies. We can't even have a list of 100 British films without relying very heavily on American artists and money. It's a fucking shit state of affairs and we need to start putting it right. When will our top talent come back to the UK and make some British films for us to watch? Why don't they remember where they come from? I know some do, but for every Tom Hardy or Paddy Considine we seem to have 10 others that we never see again. As an audience member I can't help watching stuff like The Take and thinking 'this needs a tiny boost in production value and it's a movie. A good one, too'. I'm not the only one who feels like that, surely?

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