Film chiefs support arts minister's attack on British costume dramas

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The Independent Culture

Film bosses yesterday backed claims by the Arts minister Kim Howells that British film producers are making too many costume dramas, by calling for more exploration of "hip" genres from science fiction to horror.

The Film Council, which funds home-grown cinema projects, said domestic film makers and writers were concentrating on heritage films because they tended to be the projects that received funding.

Mr Howells, the new Films and Tourism minister, said last weekend that he wanted to see more gritty productions that concentrate on contemporary issues, such as the foot-and- mouth crisis.

The MP said one recent British hit, The Full Monty, about a group of Sheffield steel workers who become strippers, was "cliché ridden", and he had not enjoyed the comedies Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill.

The council, which later this week will announce funding "in excess of £1m" to encourage new scriptwriters, said it agreed that domestic cinema had become too reliant on period dramas.

A spokeswoman said: "It is certainly right to say that while we do this sort of film very well, we should not just be concentrating on what has brought success in the past.

"We actively would encourage the industry to be more exploratory, to look at genres from sci-fi to horror. Previously it has done period dramas because they were the ones that got the money."

The film director Alan Parker, the chairman of the council, has already called for money to be directed towards better scripts and Hollywood-style production companies that use more innovation.

Mr Howells, a former art student, told a Sunday newspaper that he was keen to see less period drama in the mould of Sense and Sensibility, Mrs Brown and Howards End ­ which all either won or were nominated for Oscars.

He said: "When are we going to have, for example, the first film about the foot-and-mouth crisis? Too many film writers are allowed just to be literary."

Such period dramas, founded on the "Cambridge Footlights and Rada school of film-makers", are failing to present the right image of modern Britain, Mr Howells said. He added: "I'm not a fan of heritage movies. We're still cashing in too much on our heritage. It's the easy option."

The minister said he wanted to see an "industrial" approach to British film making.

He said: "I once went to Hollywood and was hugely impressed with the way their writers forgot about their egos and just wrote, rewrote, rewrote and rewrote again until it was right.

"What I admired was the factory idea. An industrial process, if you like."

Tourism experts raised concerns that his criticism of heritage films ­ a genre made popular by the film makers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory ­ could be unhelpful. The British Tourist Authority said overseas visitors still regarded Britain's heritage as the prime reason for visiting.

English Heritage said trips to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, Queen Victoria's retreat, increased by 25 per cent in the year after Mrs Brown came out. Visits to Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire also rose after it was a location for Mansfield Park, the 1999 film version of Jane Austen's book. Kenwood House in north London, another English Heritage-owned property, was used in both.

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