Woody Allen loves all things British, even the weather

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Woody Allen lavished praise on Britain, calling it the "perfect" location as his most recent movie, set in London, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday.

Woody Allen lavished praise on Britain, calling it the "perfect" location as his most recent movie, set in London, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday.

The director heaped kind words on British actors, financiers and even the weather as he unveiled Match Point which was filmed mainly in London last summer with backing from the BBC. It was the first time he had worked outside America.

Flanked at a festival press conference by his stars, Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Emily Mortimer, Allen said it had been a foolproof situation. "I had Scarlett and I had this gifted group of English people right down to every janitor and messenger in the picture. It was an extremely positive experience," he said.

"I'm used to working in Manhattan in the summer where everything is hot and oppressive. The weather [in Britain] is cool and the skies are grey. It's perfect for me. The film is about luck and the film was permeated with good luck."

However, the warm feelings were not reciprocated by many of the critics who saw Match Point for the first time yesterday. It is a murder story involving a poor, young, Irish tennis coach (Rhys Meyers) whose life is transformed when he marries into a wealthy family. He puts his good fortune in jeopardy by having an affair with a struggling American actress (Johansson).

Geoff Andrew, programmer for the National Film Theatre in London, said it could have been better. "It's not one of those sloppy pieces like Curse of the Jade Scorpion or Hollywood Ending which were one-joke films. At least it makes dramatic sense and it's well acted for the most part. But it's a rather peculiar take on London life. There's an awful lot of picture postcard stuff. It didn't really feel very meaty."

Jonathan Romney, film critic for The Independent on Sunday, said Allen had told the same story, more or less, before. "The story of the man who has the perfect life and has to commit murder was done much better in [Allen's 1989 film] Crimes and Misdemeanours," he said.

"I thought this was rather contrived and flat and old-fashioned. I just get the impression that Allen wasn't really taking advice from the right people about the kind of cultural details that people will spot in Britain."

But Nick James, editor of Sight and Sound magazine, said it could well be the film to persuade Americans to take another look at Allen's work. "It will work well in the States because it gives a very tourist eye's view of Britain."

Allen said it was a story that would have worked in New York, San Francisco, Paris or London. "But I made this film in London because the atmosphere was so good for me creatively."

American film financiers wanted a say in the script, the casting and even the day-to-day filming on set but Allen, who turns 70 this year, said he wanted cash without interference. "I want the money in a brown paper bag and I'll give them the film."

However, it was not just the artistic freedom that he approved of. "To an American ear, an English voice is very, very wonderful. They all sound great to us. So perhaps another Englishman could detect some false moment or something [in the film], but I couldn't," he said.

Allen is scheduled to return to Britain this summer to make a second film in which he will star as well as write and direct.