Venice Film Festival hails a golden crop of British film-making

The festival's director Marco Mueller talks to the 'IoS' about the hottest films in world cinema. (Ours)
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The Independent Online

This time the British are not just coming, they may even have arrived. A quarter of a decade after screenwriter Colin Welland issued his warning as he collected his 1982 Oscar for Chariots of Fire, there is all the evidence to suggest that a golden age of British film-making has arrived.

With four homegrown movies in the running for the Venice Film Festival's coveted Golden Lion award, announced next Sunday, the festival's director, Marco Mueller, said it was one of the finest epochs for British films.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent on Sunday, Mueller said that a "new tribe of British film producers, actors and directors were at the helm of this movement".

He also revealed that the festival's judging panel had unanimously agreed on selecting Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel, Atonement, as the opening night film, one of the hottest spots in the festival, and added: "Maybe the jury's eyes recognise Oscar material."

He also picked out James McAvoy, who stars opposite Kiera Knightley in Atonement, as one of the finest acting talents in world cinema today, and hailed British films as being at the cutting edge of innovation.

"When we were selecting films, we never thought, 'Let's focus on British cinema.' It happened naturally," he said.

Among this "tribe" is the acclaimed director, Peter Greenaway, whose murder mystery Nightwatching, based on the life of the Dutch painter Rembrandt, is up for the festival's main award as well as Kenneth Branagh's remake of the 1972 classic Sleuth, which stars Jude Law and Michael Caine; Wright's Atonement and Ken Loach's gritty drama about immigration, It's a Free World, which premiered last night.

"The diversity in British films has always been there. On the one hand, you have Exodus by [director] Penny Woolcock who comes from a non-cinema background, while on the other you have Peter Greenaway who is the opposite. And then you have Johnny Depp choosing Pinewood as his own private Hollywood," said Mueller.

The festival director, who has been at the helm of one of Europe's most important film events for four years, has been credited for much of Venice's recent success. Under his leadership, the festival has earned a reputation for spawning major award contenders – films launched in Venice over the past three years have garnered 51 Oscar nominations.

His words echo director Stephen Frears's optimism about a British film revival. Speaking at the Cannes Film Festival in May, where he presided as the chair of the jury panel, he said: "The revival in British film-making is certainly not down to me. A lot of very good films are made in the UK."

But Mueller has been criticised by those who believe he has a sway" towards Hollywood. This year's selection has been accused of being weighted too heavily towards such productions, with a total of seven English language films in the 22-strong selection list.

But Mueller argues their prominence simply means that some of the most powerful and challenging productions are emerging from Britain and America.

"The fact that many films from Venice go on to be nominated for Oscars can't be a coincidence and it means the Oscars are now accepting films which are original and innovative, such as Frears's The Queen.

"It does not mean that Venice is changing at all. I am not saying this means it is the end of the lazy Hollywood blockbuster, but I think Hollywood has always exploited new creative forces and talents," he said.