Did UK Film Peak With 'King's Speech' Win?

UK press over here are gushing that The King’s Speech quadruple Oscar major wins – Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay — will be a boost for the British film industry. But I would say it’s all downhill from here. Consider the evidence. Beginning next April, there will be no UK Film Council coordinating British Film plc. Tanya Seghatchian, head of the UK Film Council film fund — which invested just over £1 million in The King’s Speech — says the pic’s success is a “magnificent final chapter for the UK Film Council”. Of course, Seghatchian and her team will move across to new film body the British Film Institute, but people I’ve spoken to are afraid there will be no encouragement to invest in commercial British films such as The King’s Speech or Streetdance 3D. Instead, the impetus will be in to back arthouse movies, which is what the BFI has always done going back to the 1950s. Even speaking to reporters backstage at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, Firth called the decision to scrap the UKFC “short-sighted”. His sentiments were echoed by his producer Iain Canning, who said “it wouldn’t have been made without the UK Film Council”. The UKFC’s equity slug meant “they occupied a place within the finance plan that nobody wanted to inhabit,” he said.

Interestingly, the UK government’s culture department has been absolutely silent about last night’s British Oscar success. That’s because its boss, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, abolished the very organisation which provided its cornerstone funding. There’s now more reliance in Britain on borrowing money from a handful of private boutique lenders such as Aegis/Prescience (The King’s Speech), Silver Reel (Ironclad), and Ingenious through its new Fox Searchlight deal although that has to come on line yet.

There was $1.5 billion of Hollywood investment in British Film plc last year. But the rising value of sterling could choke off U.S. investment in 2012. Now is the time decisions are being made in Burbank as to where to site next year’s blockbuster shoots. Meanwhile, the European Union wants to clamp down on the local 20% tax break designed to tempt Hollywood to UK shores. It’s all part of the EU’s drive to stamp out competition between European countries in favour of the single market.

Duncan Heath, chairman of Independent Talent, which represents Firth as well as King’s Speech director Tom Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler, tells me: “I don’t think there’s any such thing as British Film plc. What we’re really good at doing is exporting British film talent.”

  1. If a ten million dollar movie about a monarch’s speech impediment qualifies as a “commericial film” in Britain, I can’t wait to see what an art house film looks like.

    1. Whatever the doubts about subject matter it’s at $244m worldwide, which I think qualifies as a commercial success..

  2. « I mean what is the British Film Industry anyway? Just a bunch of people in London who can’t get Green Cards. » (Alan Parker)

    Great piece, Tim.

  3. A commercial film could cost £50 to make

    Once again you North Americans are misunderstanding or skewing the meaning of basic words. The word commercial means ‘able to yield or make a profit.’ so if a film cost £5 and is likely to make £10 then it is highly commercial.

  4. The UK Film Council invested tens of millions of pounds of UK tax payers money in a selection of uncommercial and terrible film projects. The fact that they put some cash into the King’s Speech is great, but it does not justify them as an organisation.

  5. If a middlebrow crowd-pleaser about the Royal Family counts as an “arthouse” film, then… actually forget it, I don’t care.

  6. What about replacing Government funding with an actual film industry that makes money, a la Hollywood? In the words of Walt Disney, “We don’t make films to make money, we make money to make films”.

    £1m of tax payers money going towards a film that they are then expected to fork out £8 to go and watch at the cinema, it’s a slap in the face.

  7. If the same people are chosing what films to invest in at the BFI as at the UKFC, then what exactly is the problem? An expensive bureaucracy has been abolished and some people have lost their jobs. Others have just moved across. The sum of money available for UK film production is about the same. No doubt the success rate will be about the same. And just for the record, the UKFC put money into some pretty esoteric ‘art house’ projects.

    If you’re going to write an article on this, can you please attempt to be objective.

    Collini Out.

  8. I guarantee you , we will not see any british movie of any signifigant meaning while their conservative stuff shirts are in power , excepting the Bridget Jones remake of course !

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