British Culture

The institutional approach to British cinema clearly leads us towards some important observations about Britain's film industry in terms of finance and ownership, but the cultural approach is also useful in providing an understanding of British cinema, although the emphasis is on the films themselves rather than the industry. The British Film Institute's annual review of the film industry provides five categories of British films, all of which refer to elements of finance and production personnel as originating from Britain, while two of the definitions also refer to aspects of British culture being featured in the films. The categories are as follows:

Category A: Films where the cultural and financial impetus is from the UK and the majority of personnel are British.

Category B: Majority UK co-productions. Films in which, although there are foreign partners, there is a UK cultural content and a significant amount of British finance and personnel.

Category C: Minority UK co-productions. Foreign (non-US) films in which there is a small UK involvement in finance or personnel.

Category D: American-financed or part-financed films made in the UK. Most titles have a British cultural content.

Category E: US films with some British financial involvement.

The UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport has also concerned itself with defining what constitutes a British film. It commissioned a report from the Film Policy Review Group, and proposed two categories. The first category relates to film finance and identifies a film as British if '75% of total production expenditure is incurred on goods supplied or services performed in the UK' (FPRG, 1998, Annex 2). The second category classifies a film as culturally British with reference to a points system, with points allotted if key production staff are British and if the subject matter of the script is about Britain.

A cultural definition is concerned with how films represent aspects of British life, especially with regard to social groups and ideologies that exist within British society. Thus the cultural approach looks at how issues relating to class, race, gender, sexuality, age and national and regional identity, as well as values and beliefs about social institutions and practices such as family, work, leisure, religion, education and politics in Britain, are depicted in films. A cultural approach enables films such as Chariots of Fire and The Full Monty to be interpreted as British films, even though their finance came from outside the UK, because they deal with aspects of British culture.

Representation is a central issue in every sector of the media, be it film, television or some other media form, because the media mediate; they show things. Representation is an important and often controversial topic in studies of the media because there is always more than one way to represent something; choices are always made. Representations can be positive or negative, dominant or alternative. Thus there is always the possibility of an individual, or a social group, believing that they have been represented inaccurately or unjustly, in other words, misrepresented. Behind representations lie ideologies; values and beliefs shape how things are shown to us. Film, like other media, is a form of indirect communication: we experience an interpretation of the world second-hand. The messages we receive are mediated; the process of production comes between us and the things being represented within a film. It is always possible that our perception of the world, of British society and the social groups it contains, could be shaped and influenced by the representations we experience in films. What appear to be natural ways of seeing aspects of British society may in fact be no more than selective interpretations. For this reason, the latter part of this chapter focuses on identifying representations and stereotypes in British films that have perhaps resulted from the repeated use of particular representations over a period of time.

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