Big screen success

Every few years, a home-grown film comes along that grabs the attention of not only the British public but of audiences around the world.

In 2006, it was The Queen, which portrayed the days following the death of Princess Diana. This year, The King’s Speech starring Colin Firth has grabbed headlines for its haul of awards, including Oscars, BAFTAs and a Golden Globe. The success of such films highlights the strength of the British film industry at a time when it is facing the challenges of reduced funding.

Dr Stella Hockenhull, Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at the University’s School of Law, Social Sciences and Communications, is an expert in British cinema.

She explains that British films tend to fall into two categories – raw and gritty films such as Shane Meadows’ This is England or Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen, or heritage films such as Pride and Prejudice, A Room with a View and those focused on the monarchy, like The King’s Speech and Mrs Brown. One thing that characterises most British films is that they are low budget, unless they are in the league of the Harry Potter franchise, which is classed as British but is US funded and distributed.

Stella says: "British cinema tends to be less action and more drama, and that is why it is not particularly popular outside of the UK. A lot of the narrative and style of film does not lend itself to anything other than a British or European audience. Hollywood cinema is popular because it is formulaic and there is usually a degree of closure at the end. They have storylines that show the cause and effect and psychologically rounded characters, when often British films won’t bend to the rules."

Wider audience

But The King’s Speech and The Queen had an appeal to a wider audience than the traditional British middle class or ‘Middle England’ cinema-goer who favours the heritage style of film, as Stella explains.

"The British public like films about the monarchy – they like the side of the story that is about things they believe to be secret. The Queen and The King’s Speech are polished films; they are both very well crafted films. They are also both feel good films, and the monarchy appeals to America too. They have international appeal."

A resurgence for the film industry?

The success of The King’s Speech raises questions about whether we will see a resurgence in the British film industry. There obviously needs to be funding for this to happen, and the body responsible for distributing Lottery money within the British film industry, the UK Film Council, was abolished last year as part of Government cuts.

Stella says: "One question now being asked is whether the UK Film Council would have been abolished if The King’s Speech had been released earlier. The film has done so well and gained such great publicity for the British film industry that it begs the question was it the right decision to get rid of the UK Film Council?

"There are films being made at the moment but unless the industry is funded there won’t be a massive resurgence. We won’t see the growth of independent film companies unless there is a central fund for them to apply to."

One of the main criticisms levelled at the UK Film Council before it was abolished was that a lot of films were made and not released, but Lottery funding was also responsible for successful films such as Billy Elliot, Gosford Park and 28 Days Later. Now the onus of managing funds for British films has moved to Creative England and the British Film Institute.

Stella continues: "I think there will be an impact. Although a lot of films were made that were not very good, there were a few that really stood out, like The King’s Speech."

British expertise

Although Oscar-winning actors like Dame Helen Mirren and Colin Firth tend to be the ones in the media spotlight, there are large teams of people working behind the scenes in a range of roles to make films a box office smash.

One such role is in Special Effects, and University of Wolverhampton graduate Peter Bebb brushed shoulders with the Hollywood A-list when he collected an Oscar for his work on the film Inception.

Peter graduated with a BA (Hons) Wood, Metals and Plastics (3D Design) from the University in 1996 and has said that his degree introduced him to the world of CGI and the endless possibilities it can achieve. His work included some of Inception’s most iconic scenes, such as inner-city Paris folding in on itself and fight scenes that defied reality.

Stella says that the British film industry provides unique expertise for the Hollywood film studios.

"There is a great deal of talent behind the scenes and I think there is a lot of individual flair that is homegrown. Hollywood operates more on a factory style of production."

Film studies

Graduates from the University’s BA (Hons) Film Studies degree enter a wide range of professions, including the film industry, the media, teaching and lecturing, and film production while some others launch their own businesses.

The first year of the course forms the building blocks for film studies, with students undertaking a formal analysis of the film text, focused on editing, cinematography, mise-en-scène and sound, and looking at case studies drawn from Hollywood and European cinema.

One module, Raiders of the Lost Archive, looks at the history of cinema, ranging from Soviet cinema from the 1920s to French Poetic Realism in the 1930s and Italian Neo-Realism in the post-war period. There is also a visit to the Imperial War Museum film archive so students can see historical films in their original format.

Other modules include film genres and storytelling and adaptation, which looks at the process of adapting a book such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula into a film. Second and third year modules include Directors and Stars, the Western, Documentary and Reality TV, European Cinema, New Hollywood, Contemporary British Cinema and TV Drama and Fantasy and Sci-fi.

The University also runs an MA in Film Studies and has recently started the supervision of PhDs in the subject. All the modules use theoretical frameworks to analyse different film genres.

While the future of the British film industry is unknown, it is clear that some films have made a real impact on cinema goers and award judges alike, and homegrown films still have the power to surprise, shock, delight and entertain.

For more information about studying Film Studies at the University, visit www.wlv.ac.uk/film