Caine gives BBC one of the best

After 'In The Loop' and 'The Damned United', BBC Films hopes for more hit movies. Ian Burrell reports

You could trust Sir Michael Caine to go into an old people's home in style - dragging a feature film crew behind him and, quite literally, working his magic. At 76, the grandest of British cinema actors has taken the role of an ageing conjuror in Is Anybody There?, a daring film project that will be out in cinemas next month.

And judging by the roll that BBC Films is on at the moment, it should do well. Last weekend, in case you didn't know, saw the launch of Armando Iannucci's political satire In The Loop, which followed in the wake of the Brian Clough biopic The Damned United, both made by the corporation's film arm.

After the extraordinary success of Channel 4's Film4 at this year's Academy Awards, where it scooped eight Oscars for Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire plus nominations for Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky and Martin McDonagh's In Bruges, BBC Films is putting together a formidable slate for next year's awards season.

Christine Langan, the commissioning editor, is especially excited about Is Anybody There? – which she describes as "a big fat film but a delicate sensitive, piece" – because it was written by newcomer Peter Harness.

The film centres on the relationship between Caine's character and a 10-year-old boy (played by Bill Milner, who starred in the recent Sky movie Skellig as well as Son Of Rambow), living in the retirement home run by his parents. The script is based on Harness's own childhood. "I know it will work brilliantly for a television audience and I hope it fares well in the cinema," says Langan, referring to the need for BBC Films to perform strongly in both environments.

The movie was made, largely because BBC Films managed to put the Harry Potter producer David Heyman in contact with a US company Big Beach, which provided the rest of the necessary funding. "It grows organically but we are there every step of the way, helping to nurture and make introductions," says Langan. "That's how a film comes together. It takes a long time and it's a bit like cooking."

Later this year, a very different BBC Films project will reach cinemas. Bright Star, directed by the New Zealander Jane Campion, is set in London in 1818 and follows the love affair between a 23-year-old John Keats (played by Ben Whishaw) and girl next door Fanny Browne (Abbie Cornish). Whishaw starred in last year's BBC TV drama Criminal Justice and some will know him as Pingu in Chris Morris's comedy Nathan Barley. Langan describes his performance as Keats as "the most compelling bit of casting".

Due for release in October is An Education, written by Nick Hornby and directed by Lone Scherfig. A coming of age story about a teenage girl living in suburban London in the 1960s, it is based on a memoir by the journalist Lynn Barber. Another BBC Films project under way is Fish Tank, directed by Andrea Arnold and starring Michael Fassbender, who played the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen's film Hunger.

Langan says there are strong similarities between BBC Films and Film4 but the two operations are defined by the TV audiences they serve, with the BBC having to cater for a "broader church". That is reflected in the great diversity of the BBC Films output. It has had Oscar success before, most notably with Stephen Daldry's 2000 film Billy Elliott, but its remit also includes finding new talent. With a budget of just £12m, it aims to make eight films a year. According to Jane Wright, the general manager and executive producer of BBC Films, the corporation is able to make ideas come to fruition because its reputation as a global broadcaster opens doors and brings access to international contacts. "The BBC is one of the world's few global media brands and is known for its quality and integrity," she says. The Damned United, about legendary football manager Brian Clough, was devised as a film project in the unlikely setting of the Venice Film Festival, where Langan was talking to the director Stephen Frears, who was reading the original David Peace book. "The utter Britishness of the dark years of the Seventies was very attractive amid the glamour of Venice," she recalls. The film, with Michael Sheen in the starring role, was eventually directed by Tom Hooper.

As for In The Loop, Iannucci says BBC Films was "absolutely critical" in enabling him to translate his television satire The Thick Of It to the big screen. "When I came to them they were instantly up for it. There was no, 'you've got to do it like this and there has to be a love interest'. They left me to do my thing," he says. "I've heard so many horror stories about what happens when you start making a film.

"Once you go above a certain budget that's when people start telling you who should be in it and how the ending should happen. But they trusted my ability and were canny in not taking on a US distributor before the film was made because we didn't want any editorial interference."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission, Benefits, OTE £100k: SThree: ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Editor / Editorial Assistant

£16 - 20k: Guru Careers: A Graduate Editor / Editorial Assistant is needed to ...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine