Film: `The English Patient' has 12 Oscar and 13 BAFTA nominations. But, asks John Lyttle, why all this fuss over a dressed-up costume drama with nowhere to go?

Given that America has no tradition of what might be called BBC costume drama - art dressed up, epic but intimate, prettily pictorial but impeccably literate, and terribly, terribly tasteful - it is perhaps not surprising that it should clutch Anthony Minghella's The English Patient [Colin Firth and Kristin Scott-Thomas pictured right] to its bosom.

Well, it's so... English and so classy, and as David Lean, Merchant- Ivory and Sir Richard Attenborough have established, there's an appetite for these exports and their exquisitely calculated sensibility. Essentially weepies in arthouse drag, they have a tendency to flatter their audiences, indeed, to the point of being applauded for taking risks while actually being as commercial as any vulgar old Love Story.

Which is why the market is today growing. See the likes of Bertolucci (The Sheltering Sky, Stealing Beauty) Jane Campion (this week's Portrait of a Lady) and Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility), among others. Though sorry tales are oft told of major studios turning down these projects, the truth is subtly different: not only is there financing, there's probably more financing than ever before. Hence Miramax and Buena Vista stumping up for The English Patient and its already patented formula of desert vistas, repressed emotions, tragic romance and excessive/ impressive running- time (close to three hours).

So The English Patient's Oscar nominations, rather than coming as a surprise, are instead to be expected. This can't be said, however, of the picture's 13 - count 'em - BAFTA nominations, because we do have a tradition of BBC costume drama, with a sub-branch exclusively devoted to expat doings in decaying colonial climes (Jewel in the Crown, Fortunes of War and The Flame Trees of Thika spring to mind). Rightly or wrongly, movies like Shadowlands, Remains of the Day and The English Patient tend to receive a better box- office and critical reception in North America than here for a reason. Crassly put: we know, and are by now partially immune to, the tricks, tropes and stiff upper-lipped turns, as perhaps are our European neighbours. The Berlin Film Festival, after all, refused to follow the Golden Globes and the Academy, instead awarding The English Patient a single Silver Bear to Juliette Binoche for Best Actress.

Hype so overwhelming creates its own backlash, and unfair as that undoubtedly is, the BAFTA nominations could further stoke impossible expectations, especially on home turf, and especially given lackadaisical punter response at previews (one attempt at an ovation met a swift death). That lukewarm appreciation is not, of course, shared by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, but then its multi-category approval, from Best Film to Best Hair/ Make-up, may also be mediated by its yearning for a Big British Phenomenon, an international hit one can be proud of, and never mind where the money came from. It's one form of snobbery colliding with another form of snobbery, and that ain't classy, that's just that other Big British Phenomenon - class: middle, refined, and self-congratulatory.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea