Unjustified: David Cameron's UK Film Industry Remarks | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Unjustified: David Cameron’s UK Film Industry Remarks

In a recent visit to the historic Pinewood Studios, home most famously to the James Bond franchise, Prime Minister David Cameron was quoted as declaring that whilst we are in a ...

In a recent visit to the historic Pinewood Studios, home most famously to the James Bond franchise, Prime Minister David Cameron was quoted as declaring that whilst we are in a 'golden age' of British cinema, he hopes that our country's production companies will strive for 'commercially successful pictures', as opposed to what he euphemistically called 'culturally rewarding' efforts.

This is somewhat strange. After all, 'commercially successful' or 'commercially viable' films are not an easily definable quantity. One need only look at the recent spectacular failure of Hollywood animation-by-numbers effort Mars Need Moms. It had an estimated budget of 150 million dollars and took under seven million in its opening weekend, despite featuring a strong cast including established stars like Seth Green and Joan Cusack. Clearly then, profitable cinema is not simply just working out what brand of film is currently selling and churning out more of the same.

It could even be argued that in these times of economic insecurity, any film released in a cinema needs to be a little edgy or 'culturally rewarding' as Mr. Cameron rather belittlingly refers to interest a viewer. A very current example is the magnificent The Artist. Whilst this was produced and filmed stateside, the fact that this homage to silent film shot in black and white is winning such plaudits as well as already grossing above its estimated budget is an example for British cinema.

In recent years British cinema abounds with examples of films that vary wildly from the cinematic norm in style and content. In 2010 the Chris Morris effort Four Lions was hugely popular and profitable despite being a comedy tackling the tricky topic of suicide bombers, whilst last year's Oscar clean-up act The Kings Speech had a budget of less than 15 million pounds but has taken almost 400 million to date. Not bad for what Charlie Brooker playfully referred to as 'Rocky for stammerers'.

All these films have been commercially (and critically) successful without having the formulaic content that might not be expected of a box office hit. Indeed, perhaps this is the point: a film which makes its sole concern fitting the pieces together typical of commercial triumphs by its very nature puts issues of artistry secondary, which paradoxically will almost certainly result in it being a poorer film. Good pictures can, and should, take risks in their presentation.

On top of these arguments that concern the fiscal realism of the situation, there is another crucial comment to make. Whilst it is clear that films (particularly independent films) can be commercially successful without having to sell out their morals or resort to ground previously tread, it feels like this argument (and Cameron) has sort of missed the point.

Shouldn't the goal of our cinema industry be to make good films? It seems absurd that 'culturally rewarding' has somehow become a negative term. We should encourage our actors and directors to produce interesting and creative works of quality and not simply to engage in the same tawdry twaddle for the sake of sheer capitalism.

Finance has always driven the motion-picture business, but we must remember that whilst film-making is an industry, films should never be made in a manner that could be described as 'industrious'. Our little country has a proud heritage of excellent and inventive cinema in an eclectic variety of big budget mainstream projects and quirky independent projects, and neither should be abandoned in the misguided belief that money is all that matters.


27th January 2012 at 3:15 pm

Last Updated

26th January 2012 at 5:16 pm