Magazine article The Spectator

Why I Hate British Films

Magazine article The Spectator

Why I Hate British Films

Article excerpt

Rod Liddle says he refuses to be patriotic about our posturing, second-rate film industry

It was Colin Welland who first uttered those terrible words 'The British are coming!' at an Oscar ceremony, back in 1982 - clutching his gold-plated statuette in his northern paw and grinning from beneath his deeply northern moustache. Colin had won an Oscar for having written the screenplay to Chariots of Fire, a film about some British people who could run quite fast, particularly Eric Liddell (or 'speedy uncle Eric' as we were wont to call him).

Chariots of Fire possessed all of the qualities we have later come to associate with British films - resolutely well-meaning, somewhat stilted, implacably middlebrow and moderately sensitive, utterly devoid of sex, sin and glittering panache. And with a staggeringly irritating soundtrack by Vangelis.

Since then, every subsequent Oscars ceremony has been portrayed by our media as a sort of replacement World Cup quarter final for people who find football a little outre. It has become one of the very few manifestations of belligerent patriotism to which I cannot possibly append my name - and frankly I do not know anyone else who leaps up and down with nationalistic fervour because Nick Park, of Wallace and Gromit fame, has won the animated film award once more.

Does anybody other than our television and radio presenters see the Oscars in such a bizarre context? As a blow for 'intelligent' British film-making against the relentlessly commercial and soulless Hollywood dross which would otherwise dominate the proceedings?

It was much the same this last week.

'And how will the Brits do?' Jim Naughtie asked the arts correspondent Rebecca Jones on the Today programme, as if we were hovering nervously by our television screens fearful that Reese Witherspoon might beat Keira Knightley on penalties in extra time (which is, sort of, what happened). We were expected to cheer when Rachel Weisz won Best Supporting Actress (for The Constant Gardener) not because she is beautiful and talented but because she's a Brit. (Which is itself an assertion up for question: by lineage the babe is hybrid Austro-Hungarian).

Wallace and Gromit won again, of course, which served only to establish in me a sense of estrangement and social exclusion; I am quite possibly the only person in Britain who finds those allegedly lovable Plasticine animations unutterably predictable and tedious and wholly lacking the sharp wit and edge of, say, South Park, The Simpsons or even American Dad. I can take only so many jokes about trousers and Wensleydale cheese, if I'm honest.

But I accept that I am in a very small minority here.

The whole premise about British films - a canard which allows us to be jingoistic whenever the Oscars come around - is that they are somehow 'better' than American films, more intellectually rewarding, less likely to pander to the lowest common denominator and that they probably contain within them some noble and life-enhancing message. The action scenes in British films take second place to the development of character and plot, we tell ourselves. British films explore social 'ishoos' and are of relevance to the wider multicultural community.

How terribly true much of this is. I would not wish to denigrate all British films, per se, and I was as affected as the next man to see the excellent and plainly decent David Puttnam pick up his recent Bafta award. …

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