Who Are We?
Britain and England are not the same.
Britain = England, Scotland, Wales,
Northern Ireland/the North of Ireland.
‘I’m British but ….’
Who are we???
‘Identity only becomes an issue when it is
in crisis, when something assumed to be
fixed, coherent and stable is displaced by
the experience of doubt and uncertainty’.
(Kobena Mercer, quoted in Modernity and its
Futures, Stuart Hall, Polity 1992).
Components of the Crisis
Northern Ireland/North of Ireland.
Culture and National Identity
‘A nation does not express itself through its
culture: it is cultural apparatuses that produce the
nation’. (James Donald, Sentimental Education,
The nation is not just a collection of institutions, it
is a system of cultural representations, a symbolic
The media play a key role in this system:
Through Brit film we have become known for
heroin abuse, bowler hats, chimney sweeps, crime
capers and Football hooliganism
Nations and Stories
‘Nations and peoples are largely the stories they feed
themselves’. (Ben Okri, Birds of Heaven, Phoenix 1996).
‘The life of nations no less than that of men is lived largely
in the imagination’. (Enoch Powell, quoted in The Future
of Multi-Ethnic Britain, Profile Books 2000).
Nations as ‘imagined communities’.
The world has a different view of the British established
by its Film exports:
What do our films say about us?
What do you think this means???
What is British?
What does it mean to
How British is it?
Is it cinema?
‘Commercial’ and ‘cultural’.
The Heritage Industry
Key texts: The Heritage Industry, Robert
Hewison, Methuen 1987; On Living in an
Old Country, Patrick Wright, Verso 1985.
Heritage culture ‘imagines’ the community
in a very particular way.
Closely linked to the Thatcherite project of
‘making Britain great again’ and returning
to ‘Victorian values’.
‘One of the most powerful imaginative constructs
of our time’ (Raphael Samuel, Patriotism,
Focussed on the upper classes.
English, and frequently southern.
A laundered, sanitised past.
‘The glamour of backwardness’ (Tom Nairn, The
Enchanted Glass, Vintage 1994).
Heritage representations ‘function as lures
which oppose their brilliance to the more
tawdry and divided experience of
contemporary Britain’ (Patrick Wright).
‘National Heritage is the backward glance
taken from the edge of a vividly imagined
abyss’ (Patrick Wright).
‘Not since the 1890s or the 1930s has the worship
of wistfulness been so widespread. And there in
part lies the explanation; then, as now, depression
is the begetter of nostalgia’ (David Cannadine,
quoted in Raphael Samuel, Theatres of Memory,
‘One of the marks of the feudal ancien regime was
that the dead governed the living. A mark of a
decrepit political system must surely be that a
fictitious past of theme parks and costume dramas
governs the present’ (Neal Ascherson, quoted in
Heritage Cinema and Television
Chariots of Fire (1981)
The work of James Ivory and Ismail
Merchant (Howards End (1992), Room
With a View (1986) etc.)
Brideshead Revisited (1981,Granada
Heritage Cinema and Television
Continuing the tradition of the historical film, the
costume drama and the tv ‘classic serial’.
Connotations of ‘quality’ and ‘high’ culture.
A country house version of Englishness
Loving re-creation of period details.
‘The past is delivered as a museum of sounds and
images’ (Andrew Higson in British Cinema and
Thatcherism, Lester Friedman (ed.), UCL Press
Heritage Cinema and Television
Settings play as great a role as character and
The visuals are frequently seductive and self-
Narrative is transformed into spectacle, which
becomes an end in itself.
‘Like a lovely day out in some National Trust
property’ (Sunday Telegraph review of Pride and
‘All the classic ingredients are here; the exquisite
period settings, breathtaking photography and a
superb cast’ (video cover of Maurice (1987)).
Post-Heritage Historical Cinema
Historical cinema was ‘sexed’ up and re-
branded as part of the Cool Brittannia wave
of the mid to late 90s:
The Madness of King George (1997).
Shakespeare in Love (1999).
‘We must not define ourselves solely in
terms of the past, or tradition, or what we
have inherited. Culture and personal and
national identity are every bit as much – if
not more – about the future as they are
about the past’
(Chris Smith, former Culture Minister, Creative Britain,
‘When we try to understand how our
national culture and sense of identity
intertwine, let us remember first and
foremost that diversity is one of the key
ingredients of both that culture and that
Twin Town (1996)
Human Traffic (1999).
These films also represent aspects of
Britishness other than Englishness.
The work of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh.
Brassed Off (1996).
The Full Monty (1997).
Nil by Mouth (1997).
Most modern cultures consist of a number of
different and distinct cultures and stories.
It has been suggested (in the report The Future of
Multi-Ethnic Britain) that Britain is best regarded
as a ‘community of communities’.
Multi-culturalism and the legacy of 9/11.
Cinema’s and television’s generally liberal stance
on ethnicity contrasts strikingly with the illiberal
views expressed by much of the press on this
With the arrival of New Labour in Britain there was an
upswing in re-branding Britain as a ‘cool’ place to be –
reflected in its culture (music and art as well as film) – this led
to films which moved away from the more gritty traditional
Brit Film and followed the more American-friendly path of
Four Weddings & a Funeral. Such projects led to further
professional interest in British film and more financial
investment from both local and international sources.
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985).
My Son the Fanatic (1997)
East is East (1999).
The work of Gurinder Chadha.
British Cinema Today
Hollywood films account for over 70% of British box-office
The most commercially successful British films of the last 15 years
- Four Weddings and a Funeral, Trainspotting, The Full Monty,
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Notting Hill, Billy Elliot,
Bridget Jones Diary - have either received funding and/ or
distribution from US companies.
Working Title films are distributed by Universal.
British studios (Pinewood, Shepperton, Leavesdon) frequently
provide facilities and personnel for Hollywood films (e.g.
Gladiator, Tomb Raider).
The UK Film Council
The UK Film Council (UKFC) was set up in 2000 by the
Labour Government as a Non departmental body to develop
and promote the film industry in the UK. It is constituted as a
private company limited by guarantee governed by a board of
15 directors and is funded through sources including the Lotto.
In its own words, the aim of UKFC is:
To stimulate a competitive, successful and vibrant UK film
industry and culture, and to promote the widest possible
enjoyment and understanding of cinema throughout the nations
and regions of the UK.
UKFC has a mandate that spans cultural, social and economic