Film: The British are coming!
With new films from old masters Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, fresh comedy talents behind the camera and two Roman epics in the pipeline, these are exciting times for homegrown movies. Geoffrey Macnab looks ahead
Friday 08 January 2010
This year looks as if it will be a vintage year for British filmmakers... but a very difficult one for the British film industry as a whole. We will be seeing work by established auteurs like Stephen Frears, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. Meanwhile, there are signs of a new wave in British big-screen comedy led by movies like the 1970s-set Cemetery Junction directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, satirist Chris Morris's directorial debut, Four Lions, and Nigel Cole's We Want Sex, about the 1968 Ford Dagenham strike by 187 sewing machinists. Expectations are high, too, for films from British directors working in North America: Edgar Wright's comic-book adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Michael Winterbottom's foray into film noir, The Killer Inside Me.
Back in Britain, Rowan Joffe's new version of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock (updated to the 1960s) marks the first major foray into production of ambitious UK distributor Optimum Releasing. And it will be intriguing to discover whether actor turned director Nick Moran can follow up on the promise of Telstar with his new film The Kid, about an abused child from a grim background building a better life for himself.
Two competing projects about Romans in barbaric Britain, Neil Marshall's Centurion and Kevin Macdonald's The Eagle of the Ninth, means that 2010 is also shaping up as the year of the toga in British cinema.
The downside is that in spite of the promise of all these films, independent British producers are finding it ever harder to finance their new movies. Cuts are looming at the UK Film Council, the public body that has been one of the major investors in UK production over the last decade. With lottery money being diverted to the Olympics, less money will be available for British film-makers and the commercial sector is becoming more and more "risk averse". It's yet to be seen what implications the planned merger between the UK Film Council and the British Film Institute will have on British production. There is uncertainty, too, about what a change in Government might mean for public film policy.
Another worry is that the Harry Potter bubble will soon burst. For the last decade, the British film industry has derived huge economic benefit from the series shooting in the UK. When it ends next year with the second part of the ominously titled Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it is bound to create a funereal chill in the industry.
Whatever kind of films the Brits make, they remain heavily reliant on backing from the UK Film Council or broadcasters like the BBC and Channel 4 and there just doesn't seem to be enough money to go around. In the short-term, though, there seem to be plenty of decent British-made and British-directed films in the pipeline. Enjoy them while you can.
ONES TO WATCH: BRIT FILMS IN 2010
Ken Loach's new film takes its title from the often lethal road that links Baghdad airport with the city's Green Zone. The focus is less on the Iraq War itself than on its effect on a former soldier whose best friend died on "Route Irish". Scripted by Paul Laverty, Route Irish sees the director reunited with the cinematographer Chris Menges, who first worked with Loach more than 40 years ago. He was a camera operator on Loach's Poor Cow in 1967 and was cinematographer on Loach's early masterpiece, Kes (1969).
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant make their big- screen directorial debut with a nostalgic comedy set in 1970s England. The heroes are twentysomething clerks, working for a life assurance company and whiling away their days boozing and chasing women. Cemetery Junction is billed as "the funny, touching and universal story of being trapped in a small town and dreaming of escape". The conventional wisdom used to be that British TV comedians struggled to make the transition to the big screen. However, Gervais and Merchant are promising that their evocation of early 70s Reading will be "glossy and glorious, full of humour, romance and drama." (9 April)
Untitled (Mike Leigh)
"An intimate portrait of people's lives" is how Leigh's latest is described. It is doubtful that even the financiers know exactly what the film is about. As Leigh once remarked of his insistence on complete creative freedom, "there is none of that hideous, long-winded process of shunting a film backward and forward... having every cigar-chomping producer putting in his ill-conceived two-pence worth." What we do know is that the new film sees Leigh surrounded by familiar faces. The cast is led by Jim Broadbent and Lesley Manville.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
After Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Edgar Wright goes it alone – he has made his new film, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, without his usual accomplices, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Wright is collaborating with a cast of young Hollywood actors led by Michael Cera, who played the gawky charmer Paulie Bleeker in Jason Reitman's Juno. Based on Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel, the film tells the story of the young slacker Scott who can only win the girl of his dreams by vanquishing her seven dastardly ex-boyfriends. (6 August)
Chris Morris's satire about a bunch of British jihadis who push their abstract dreams of glory to breaking point premieres at the Sundance Festival later this month. Given the furore about alleged Christmas Day bomb plot on a Detroit-bound plane, Four Lions could hardly be more topical. Some are bound to be offended by Morris's hijacking of terror for the purposes of big-screen farce. The film starts from the premise that terrorist cells are "driven by the same group dynamics as football teams and stag parties."
Stephen Frears follows up on The Queen with an adaptation of Posy Simmonds' graphic novel. Offering a modern reworking of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, the new film stars Gemma Arterton as a big city femme fatale returning to her rural roots. Once a shy and awkward teenager, she is now the focus of envy, lust and gossip wherever she goes.
Never Let Me Go
This adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel stars two of Britain's biggest young stars: the long established Keira Knightley and the fast-rising Carey Mulligan. It is produced by DNA, the UK production company behind 28 Days Later and Sunshine. US director Mark Romanek was behind the very creepy Robin Williams drama One Hour Photo. Never Let Me Go promises to be equally unsettling. It is about a very sinister boarding school where human beings are cloned to provide organs for donor transplants. (November)
Rowan Joffe's new screen version of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock is likely to be very different to the Boulting brothers' 1947 version. For a start, the new film is set in the 1960s – the era of mods, rockers and Quadrophenia. Sam Riley plays the razor-wielding Pinkie (the role made famous by a young Richard Attenborough.). "We're making Brighton Rock as contemporary as we possibly can because the story feels "modern". It's too alive, too vibrant and too relevant to be contained in the late 30s," Joffe has said of his adaptation.
The Killer Inside Me
Pulp writer Jim Thompson is the patron saint of film noir. The Grifters, The Getaway, The Kill-Off and After Dark, My Sweet were all adapted from his work and he helped script Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. Now, prolific British director Michael Winterbottom has made a film version of his 1952 novel. The film stars Casey Affleck as the small-town deputy sheriff who is also a sadist, a psychopath and a killer.
Oxbridge educated drugs smuggler and libertarian Howard Marks is played by Rhys Ifans in Bernard Rose's biopic. Expect an epic – Rose has already characterised the film as "the Lawrence of Arabia of stoner movies." (8 October)
The Wire's Dominic West exchanges the mean streets of Baltimore for the muddy bogs of Pictish Britain in horror meister Neil Marshall's foray into sword- and-sandal territory. (23 April)
The Eagle of the Ninth
Tourism in the remoter reaches of Wester Ross is likely to be boosted by Kevin Macdonald's The Eagle of the Ninth which was partially shot last October at Achiltibuie on the Coigach Peninsula. This rugged part of Scotland should make a suitably austere backdrop for a film set in 2nd-century Britain and exploring the circumstances behind the disappearance of the Ninth Legion somewhere in the Highlands. Channing Tatum, Donald Sutherland and Jamie Bell head the cast.
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