The ongoing debates about the aim and purposes
of British filmmaking are polarised between two
1. British cinema should be a resolutely national
cinema, representing British culture to a
British audience. To do this, British films
need to be publicly funded.
2. British cinema should be a profitable
business, competing in the international
marketplace, particularly with Hollywood, by
attracting a wide audience.
The output of Working Title is often used to illustrate
the logic of the second argument. They are responsible
for such films as Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary and
About A Boy.
Proponents of the first position criticise these
kinds of films for imitating Hollywood in their
subject matter, their overdependence on stars
and genre, their lack of national specificity or
investigation of British issues for a British audience.
The use of public money for film funding generates
particularly heated arguments. The main ways in
which the government can distribute funds to film
Direct subsidies such as the use of National Lottery
Indirect subsidies through tax write-offs
The UK Film Council was set up in 2000 to centralise the
various means of public support for film, taking over from the
Arts Council, which had previously been heavily criticised for
the way in which it distributed lottery money to filmmakers. At
the same time it took over the production department of the
British Film Institute, arguably a more significant source of
subsidy than the Arts Council, funding the first features of
many important British directors.
Funding now targets different aspects of the British film
Development Fund – Aims to rains the quality of screenplays produced;
Premiere Fund – Supports bigger budget films and established talent, for
example St. Trinian's, The Constant Gardener;
New Cinema Fund – Supports short and feature films; aims to encourage
diversity in the industry, for example This Is England, Brick Lane;
Prints and Advertising Fund - designed to widen and support the
distribution and marketing strategy of 'specialised' films and to offer
support to more commercially focused 'British' films that nevertheless
remain difficult to market.
The 80s are behind us. In other words, we do
not want to finance social realist art films, nor
even Hollywood scale mega productions… The
Film Council will help to finance popular films
that the British public will go and see in the
multiplex on Friday night. Films that entertain
people and make them feel good.
UK Film Council
This argument provoked angry responses from a range of film
critics, filmmakers and actors.
They argued that this strategy would deny funding to films
which did not appeal to the mainstream; the very kind which
could not survive without subsidy but which are of artistic and
Box office successes such as The Full Monty and East Is East
are used as examples of films with difficult or controversial
subject matter (but which were both critically and
commercially successful) which may not have received from
the UK Film Council.
Before UK Film Council £100 million of lottery money was
spent on 200 films with a total return of £6 million.
In contrast the Film Council has funded films which have often
been both commercial and critical successes. The £13 million
invested in 20 films between 2000 and 2003 generated £125
million at the box office.
Successful films repay the funding, providing opportunities for
Ken Loach explores the story of a young drug dealer in
Glasgow using local dialect and non-professional
actors. This reflects his belief in the importance of
representing social issues and groups relevant to the
nation first, putting the concerns of attracting a mass