FILM / The view from across the Pond: 'The British are coming,' said Colin Welland a decade ago. And so they went: but not quite the way we'd hoped. Sheila Johnston reports

This spring and summer, UK cinemas will be flooded by a stream of 'American' movies. Look more closely at the credits, however, and you will notice that a thick sprinkling of them are actually directed by Brits. One of the year's biggest grossers, The Bodyguard, is directed by Britain's Mick Jackson. The horror film Candyman comes from Bernard Rose. The Distinguished Gentleman, the new Eddie Murphy comedy, is by Jonathan Lynn, whose UK credits include Yes, Minister, Yes, Prime Minister and Nuns on the Run. Beeban Kidron, whose Used People opened last week, is best-known here for her TV adaptation of Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

Next week sees Accidental Hero, a Dustin Hoffman vehicle directed by Stephen Frears. Hard on its heels comes Jon Amiel's Sommersby, based on the French film The Return of Martin Guerre. Then in May there is Adrian Lyne's Indecent Proposal, and, further down the pike, Michael (Scandal) Caton-Jones's This Boy's Life, starring Robert De Niro, and Bruce (Withnail and I) Robinson's thriller Jennifer 8.

The reasons for this mass exodus of talent are too obvious - and too depressing - to go into here, although a small bright spot is the fact that a number of the directors are not making LA their permanent home: Frears' BBC-TV film The Snapper was transmitted here last weekend and Kidron is currently in London fine- tuning her latest, British project, an adaptation of Winterson's Great Moments in Aviation. Her comment was fairly typical of the directors I spoke to: 'I hated being away from home. Los Angeles is a company town; everyone you meet is in the film industry. It's quite exciting but finally not very nourishing; you become a walking CV.'

It's difficult to see these Brits in Hollywood as a homogeneous group producing a recognisable 'school' of movies in the same way that, say, European expatriates during the Second World War helped shape the distinctive style of the Forties film noir. But some of their movies, and their experiences, have intriguing features in common. The following dossier was compiled by talking to Jonathan Lynn, Beeban Kidron and Jon Amiel.

MONEY

'THE DIFFERENCES of scale are obvious,' says Lynn, 'but in Hollywood the budgets seem a little unreal, like Monopoly money. When I was making Nuns on the Run in Britain I knew that if I fell behind schedule there was no way of catching up. What Denis (O'Brien, of the production company, HandMade Pictures) said to me was totally fair; he and George Harrison were putting up the money themselves. And I was very grateful. If you're making a film for a major studio in America nobody wants you to go over budget. But when we were caught in a hurricane on My Cousin Vinny and that day's shooting was a write-off, Fox wasn't thrilled but they said OK . . . '

For Kidron, 'Working for a studio was tough, but standing on the set of Great Moments in Aviation here and knowing I can't afford another half hour of overtime is just as horrendous a compromise. I don't know if it's more masterful to overcome that problem than to overcome having an abundance of wealth.'

POWER

Kidron looks to be the most vulnerable of the three to studio pressure: she's the youngest, she's female and, unlike Amiel and Lynn, who have made American films before, a Hollywood debutante. 'I'm sure I get flak for all those things,' she says. 'But I try to march through it. It's like going home late at night - if you walk fast and look as if you know where you're going you're less likely to be attacked.

'When we were discussing the end of my film, I said I'd like to invoke the right of authorship and do it my way. The studio executive looked at me and said 'Do you think you're still in England?' Then he laughed and said something like, 'OK. But you're the first director who came to Hollywood and got final cut before she's out of nappies.' He was surprised, but he gave me what I needed.'

Amiel adds, 'I've been blessedly insulated from most of that moose- poop. Most of the time I was filming on location in Virginia, so it didn't feel like Hollywood; it just felt like another bloody uncomfortable muddy location where the weather was always wrong. That was very familiar. And there's a curious magic circle that happens on a film set - suddenly, wherever you are, it feels exactly the same. All other reality is shut out and the film set dominates.'

STARS

OF THE THREE directors, Lynn seemed the likeliest to be facing a rough ride: his star, Eddie Murphy, has a checkered rep for things like racking up huge lunch bills for his people (he has a lot of people) at McDonald's. 'I've read the same stories as you,' says Lynn, who declares himself pleasantly surprised: for all he knows, Murphy may have been giving the studio a hard time behind the scenes, but as far as he was concerned he was a pro on set and even showed up to act, off-camera, opposite the (unimportant) day-players.

Kidron says, 'One of the great benefits of having my cast (Shirley MacLaine, Marcello Mastroianni, Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy) was that I thought no one would be interested in me. It wasn't quite like that - I had to say more about myself than I would choose to. But it is important to support your films visibly - like children, you can't abandon them just because they've left home.'

PREVIEWS

'AUDIENCE previews are a nightmare,' says Amiel, who confesses to pressure to change Sommersby's rather sombre ending. 'It's like 500 strangers sitting there marking your exam paper. Often it's the stick the studio uses to beat you with: 14 per cent of the audience said they didn't like this scene. If you cut it, 14 per cent of the 'very goods' will be pushed to the 'excellent' rating. This translates into dollars 2 million differential at the box-office. You get blinded with this quasi-science of reviewology. Fortunately the previews became a real support because while the audience was slightly dismayed at the way Sommersby ended, they were very clear that a different ending wouldn't make them feel better.'

HEROES

IT'S very tempting to see this as the main difference between the directors' English and American work; certainly Lynn, who has thoroughly satirised dirty dealings in high places on both sides of the Atlantic, sees The Distinguished Gentleman as much less cynical than Yes Minister in its view of the political process - Murphy, the outrageous con-artist turned Congressman, does change his spots and come good at the end of the day.

Sommersby is different again: it seems to have a traditional hero, a soldier, played by Richard Gere, who returns from the Civil War and transforms his village by introducing tobacco farming to it. And yet, Jack Sommersby is a highly ambiguous figure; like Dustin Hoffman in Frears' Accidental Hero, he's a hero malgre lui. 'If you think about the difference between European movies and American movies, you find yourself going back to an ancient theological debate, which is the debate between predestination and free will,' Amiel says. 'In many great European movies the end is somehow preordained, whether it's The Passenger or The Conformist or Martin Guerre. All great American literature and, certainly, American movies celebrate free will - the power of individuals to make their own choices and become their own creatures.

'This said, Richard Gere comes into town with one purpose only, which is to rip it off, and cons himself into a position of integrity from which he can't escape. He's subverted by love and by the town which needs him. He's a very off-centre hero, as is Dustin Hoffman in Stephen Frears' movie; they're about the odd and paradoxical nature of heroism, and how people can end up doing heroic things for the most unheroic reasons.

'And maybe the reason Stephen and I both got involved in that kind of story is that there are no real heroes left at the moment - no political heroes, none of the shining figure heads, no great ideologies left intact . . . It's a very, very tough time to be an idealist. Mostly Hollywood manages it at the expense of sense. People say there: why can't we make movies like Capra's and Sturges'? The truth is, they can't do it because the makers don't really believe the way those people did in the inherent goodness of humanity. They may pretend to believe that love conquers all and everything will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds. But truthfully they don't and most happy endings in Hollywood stink of contrivance and condescension.'

Jonathan Lynn's 'The Distinguished Gentleman' and Beeban Kidron's 'Used People' play around the country. Jon Amiel's 'Sommersby' opens on 23 April

(Photographs omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on